The Truth About Inflation

The Truth About Inflation
Fix, Blair. (2021). Economics from the Top Down. 24 November. (Article - Magazine; English).

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Milton Friedman has been dead for more than a decade, but his ghost still haunts us. In the 1960s, Friedman declared that inflation is ‘always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon’ — a problem of printing too much money. Since then, whenever inflation rears its head, you can count on someone to reanimate Friedman’s ghost and blame the government for spending too much.

If only inflation were so simple.

Like much of economic theory, Friedman’s thinking appears plausible on first glance. Inflation is a general rise in prices. And since prices are nothing but the exchange of money, more circulating money means prices must increase. Hence, inflation is ‘always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon’.

Unfortunately, this thinking falls apart on further inspection. The problem is that it treats inflation as a uniform rise in prices. That’s theoretically convenient, but empirically false. In the real world, inflation is wildly divergent. At the same time that the price of apples rises by 5%, the price of cars could grow by 50%, and the price of clothing might fall by 20%.

To understand inflation as it actually exists, we must look not to economics textbooks, but to real-world data. That’s what political economist Jonathan Nitzan did during his PhD research in the early 1990s. His work culminated in a dissertation called Inflation As Restructuring. In the real world, Nitzan observed, price change is always ‘differential’, meaning there are winners and losers. The consequence is that inflation is not purely a ‘monetary phenomenon’, as Milton Friedman claimed. Inflation restructures the social order.

It is this real-world feature of inflation that is most important, because it means that inflation signals a change in society’s power structure. Predictably, it is this real-world feature that mainstream economists ignore — largely because it conflicts with their tidy theory of inflation as a ‘monetary phenomenon’. Fortunately, the evidence is clear. Inflation is (and has always been) overwhelmingly differential. Inflation is restructuring.

Today, as inflation fears return and Friedman’s ghost is resurrected, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the real-world facts.



Publication Type

Article - Magazine


inflation disaggregation distribution monetarism


BN Methodology
BN Region - North America
BN Value & Price
BN Business Enterprise
BN Capital & Accumulation
BN Conflict & Violence
BN Data & Statistics
BN Distribution

Depositing User

Jonathan Nitzan

Date Deposited

28 Nov 2021 19:01

Last Modified

15 Dec 2021 01:20


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