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How You Contribute to Monetary Inflation

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking to a small gathering of churchgoers about the causes, dangers and morality of monetary inflation—a topic about which I wrote recently. The audience was great and followed up the presentation with several thoughtful and challenging questions. One in particular stood out: Are there ways that we—well meaning, moral and informed people—unknowingly contribute to our nation’s culture of inflation and excess spending?” It was a great question, and one I admittedly did not know how to answer at the time. But after some days of pondering, I have identified three ways in which even the most virtuous of us fuel our culture’s (and government’s) addiction to inflation. First: Going into debt. I don’t believe acquiring debt is always a bad decision. Given a particular circumstance, it may even be the most prudent choice. But debtors face a temptation to favor inflation that is difficult for even the most honorable of people to overcome. The fact is, when money is debased through inflation, debtors gain the difference. If I borrow $10,000 tomorrow to fund a new car, I gain (at the expense of my creditor) from whatever debasement of the dollar occurs as I’m paying it back. If the dollar has lost five percent of its value by the time I start paying off the loan, I will be paying back five percent less in real terms. That said, by going into debt, one exposes himself to moral hazard that too easily makes a principled opposition to excessive inflation take a back seat to the short-term gain that occurs in an inflationary environment. And when everyone is a debtor, preventing inflation via representative government becomes virtually impossible. Second: Spending too much and saving too little. Even if your personal finances remain in the black, spending too much as a percentage of your income lessens the harm that inflation has on your personal finances. This—like inflation—creates dangerous moral hazard. For example, someone who spends 95 percent of his income each week has very little savings to actually be devalued in an inflationary environment. And assuming wages periodically adjust, inflation can be almost meaningless—he loses nothing. Price changes for him are strictly nominal and inflation does not affect his wealth. On the other hand, someone who prudently saves 50 percent of his income each week stands to lose as the dollar is progressively devalued. What he put away in the past becomes worth less and less as inflation runs its course, making the accumulation of wealth over time exceedingly difficult. Therefore, by spending too much money, one stands to lose very little from inflation, and in turn has little incentive to exert pressure on officials to refrain from inflating the money supply. Third: Voting “single-issue.” It is a known fact that most Americans vote for a candidate based on his or her belief on two or three particular issues. Taxes, spending, abortion … these issues make and break elections. But monetary policy, while complex difficult to understand, is just as important as any other political issue. Voters should consider candidates monetary views when deciding who to support. Indeed, the nature of money as a universal medium of exchange means bad monetary policy harms everyone, and is thus a very important policy area. Bad money corrupts a rational economic order, and ignoring this issue when voting makes one as responsible for inflation as those who actively promote such policies. Voters everywhere should keep their representatives accountable on the issue of monetary policy like they do on the other “mainstream” issues. These are three ways in which well-meaning, informed people unknowingly contribute to our nation’s culture of excessive inflation. Consider yourself warned, however, and take measures to protect yourself from your own selfish heart.