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

In: The Costs and Benefits of Price Stability

Listed author(s):
  • 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.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 7774.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:7774
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    3. Laurence Ball, 1994. "What Determines the Sacrifice Ratio?," NBER Chapters, in: Monetary Policy, pages 155-193 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. 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.
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    7. James R. Hines, Jr. & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1990. "Coming Home To America: Dividend Repatriations By U.S. Multinationals," NBER Chapters, in: Taxation in the Global Economy, pages 161-208 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Martin S. Feldstein, 1997. "The Costs and Benefits of Going from Low Inflation to Price Stability," NBER Chapters, in: Reducing Inflation: Motivation and Strategy, pages 123-166 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    18. 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 53-70, April.
    19. Mishkin, Frederic S., 1992. "Is the Fisher effect for real? : A reexamination of the relationship between inflation and interest rates," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 195-215, November.
    20. Feldstein, Martin S, 1979. "The Welfare Cost of Permanent Inflation and Optimal Short-Run Economic Policy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(4), pages 749-768, August.
    21. 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.
    22. 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.
    23. Alan J. Auerbach, 1980. "Wealth Maximization and the Cost of Capital," NBER Working Papers 0254, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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