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Inflation and the User Cost of Capital: Does Inflation Still Matter?

In: The Costs and Benefits of Price Stability

  • Darrel Cohen
  • Kevin Hassett
  • R. Glenn Hubbard

In the late 1970s, many economists argued that the deleterious effects of inflation on the user cost of capital for U.S. firms were large. Since that time, the tax code has changed, the level of inflation has dropped significantly, and the of investment has evolved considerably. In this paper, we demonstrate that the net effect of these changes has--under reasonable assumptions--not relegated inflation to the sidelines. Indeed, we conclude that: (1) inflation, even at its relatively low current rates, continues to increase the user cost of capital significantly; (2) the marginal gain in investment in response to a percentage-point reduction in inflation is larger for lower levels of inflation; (3) the beneficial effects for steady-state consumption of lowering inflation even further than has been achieved to date would likely be significant; and (4) inflation has only a small impact on intratemporal distortion in the allocation of capital within the domestic business sector. We also show that the magnitude of the inflation effect on the user cost of capital is likely much smaller in open economies.

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This chapter was published in:
  • Martin Feldstein, 1999. "The Costs and Benefits of Price Stability," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld99-1, August.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 7774.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:7774
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    1. Hubbard, R Glenn, 1997. "How Different Are Income and Consumption Taxes?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(2), pages 138-42, May.
    2. Jason G. Cummins & Kevin A. Hassett & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1994. "A Reconsideration of Investment Behavior Using Tax Reforms as Natural Experiments," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 25(2), pages 1-74.
    3. Alan J. Auerbach, 1980. "Inflation and the Tax Treatment of Firm Behavior," NBER Working Papers 0547, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Assaf Razin & Joel Slemrod, 1990. "Taxation in the Global Economy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number razi90-1, August.
    5. Feldstein, Martin S, 1976. "Inflation, Income Taxes, and the Rate of Interest: A Theoretical Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(5), pages 809-20, December.
    6. David F. Bradford, 1979. "The Incidence and Allocation Effects of a Tax on Corporate Distributions," NBER Working Papers 0349, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Michael P. Devereux & R. Glenn Hubbard, 2000. "Taxing Multinationals," NBER Working Papers 7920, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Don Fullerton & Diane Lim Rogers, 1997. "Neglected Effects on the Uses Side: Even a Uniform Tax Would Change Relative Goods Prices," NBER Working Papers 5937, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Martin Feldstein & Lawrence H. Summers, 1979. "Inflation and the Taxation of Capital Income in the Corporate Sector," NBER Working Papers 0312, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Feldstein, Martin, 1982. "Inflation, Tax Rules and Investment: Some Econometric Evidence," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(4), pages 825-62, July.
    11. Frederic S. Mishkin, 1991. "Is the Fisher Effect for Real? A Reexamination of the Relationship Between Inflation and Interest Rates," NBER Working Papers 3632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Fischer, Stanley, 1981. "Towards an understanding of the costs of inflation: II," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 15(1), pages 5-41, January.
    13. Rosanne Altshuler & T. Scott Newlon & William Randolph, 1996. "Do Repatriation Taxes Matter? Evidence from the Tax Returns of U.S. Multinationals," Departmental Working Papers 199405, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
    14. Jason Cummins & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1995. "The Tax Sensitivity of Foreign Direct Investment: Evidence from Firm-Level Panel Data," NBER Chapters, in: The Effects of Taxation on Multinational Corporations, pages 123-152 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Jason G. Cummins & Kevin A. Hassett & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1995. "Tax Reforms and Investment: A Cross-Country Comparison," NBER Working Papers 5232, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Auerbach, Alan J., 1989. "The deadweight loss from `non-neutral' capital income taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 1-36, October.
    17. Martin Feldstein, 1977. "The Welfare Cost of Permanent Inflation and Optimal Short-Run Economic Policy," NBER Working Papers 0201, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Hines, J.R.J. & Hubbard, R.G., 1989. "Coming Home To America - Devidend Repatriations By U.S. Multinationals," Papers 146, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
    19. Feldstein, Martin S & Green, Jerry R & Sheshinski, Eytan, 1978. "Inflation and Taxes in a Growing Economy with Debt and Equity Finance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(2), pages S53-70, April.
    20. Darby, Michael R, 1975. "The Financial and Tax Effects of Monetary Policy on Interest Rates," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 13(2), pages 266-76, June.
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    22. Hansson, Ingemar & Stuart, Charles, 1986. "The Fisher Hypothesis and International Capital Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(6), pages 1330-37, December.
    23. Levi, Maurice D, 1977. "Taxation and "Abnormal" International Capital Flows," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 635-46, June.
    24. Hartman, David G, 1979. "Taxation and the Effects of Inflation on the Real Capital Stock in an Open Economy," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 20(2), pages 417-25, June.
    25. Alan J. Auerbach, 1986. "Tax Reform and Adjustment Costs: The Impact on Investment and Market Value," NBER Working Papers 2103, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    26. Mervyn A. King & Don Fullerton, 1983. "The Taxation of Income from Capital: A Comparative Study of the U.S., U.K., Sweden, and West Germany--The Theoretical Framework--," NBER Working Papers 1058, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    27. Martin Feldstein & James R. Hines Jr. & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1995. "Taxing Multinational Corporations," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld95-1, August.
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    29. Bayoumi, Tamim & Gagnon, Joseph, 1996. "Taxation and inflation: A new explanation for capital flows," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 303-330, October.
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