Monday, November 14, 2011

We Get Letters! Euro-zone inflation...

Will C writes: I recently listened to a Russ Roberts podcast interview where you discussed inflation, among other things. I thought of your interview when I recently read that Italy was suffering from inflation. I wonder if you could answer a question - on your blog or whenever time permits - about Italy, the Euro, and inflation.

I figured that inflation would be about the same in all of the Euro countries since they have a common currency. If inflation is a monetary phenomenon how could Italy have inflation but Germany does not? Perhaps what I read is incorrect and Italy is not experiencing inflation.

The answer is not very interesting. Inflation rates do NOT differ much in the Eurozone. Maybe from a low in Germany of 1.4% to a high of 5% or 5.5% in Estonia. As for Italy? Not so much: Italian inflation is up to 3.5%, from 2.2%, but that's not really inflation.
(click for a more inflated image!)

The differences are changed in measured relative prices in the index calculated from a survey. The biggest components are housing, food, and clothing. These change at different rates (though not MUCH different) in different countries. Some of it depends on barriers to external trade, since there are no formal trade barriers within the EU.

Here is some info: In September 2011, the lowest annual rates were observed in Ireland (1.3%), Sweden (1.5%) and the Czech Republic (2.1%), and the highest in Estonia (5.4%) and Lithuania (4.7%). Compared with August 2011, annual inflation fell in seven Member States, remained stable in five and rose in fourteen.

So the "always and everwhere" bit is a matter of DEFINITION, not CAUSE. The claim is that inflation in the EU cannot be consistently greater than the rate of increase of the money supply (though as we see in the US, it can be less). But there can be changes in relative prices, which will affect measured inflation, sometimes quite sharply. Is that "real" inflation? As far as the people paying the higher prices, sure. But in terms of definition, I'd say no.

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