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The Elusive Costs of Inflation: Price Dispersion during the U.S. Great Inflation

Author

Listed:
  • Emi Nakamura
  • Jón Steinsson
  • Patrick Sun
  • Daniel Villar

Abstract

A key policy question is: How high an inflation rate should central banks target? This depends crucially on the costs of inflation. An important concern is that high inflation will lead to inefficient price dispersion. Workhorse New Keynesian models imply that this cost of inflation is very large. An increase in steady state inflation from 0% to 10% yields a welfare loss that is an order of magnitude greater than the welfare loss from business cycle fluctuations in output in these models. We assess this prediction empirically using a new dataset on price behavior during the Great Inflation of the late 1970's and early 1980's in the United States. If price dispersion increases rapidly with inflation, we should see the absolute size of price changes increasing with inflation: price changes should become larger as prices drift further from their optimal level at higher inflation rates. We find no evidence that the absolute size of price changes rose during the Great Inflation. This suggests that the standard New Keynesian analysis of the welfare costs of inflation is wrong and its implications for the optimal inflation rate need to be reassessed. We also find that (non-sale) prices have not become more flexible over the past 40 years.

Suggested Citation

  • Emi Nakamura & Jón Steinsson & Patrick Sun & Daniel Villar, 2016. "The Elusive Costs of Inflation: Price Dispersion during the U.S. Great Inflation," NBER Working Papers 22505, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22505
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bernardo Guimaraes & Kevin D. Sheedy, 2011. "Sales and Monetary Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 844-876, April.
    2. Frederick C. Mills, 1927. "Introduction to "The Behavior of Prices"," NBER Chapters,in: The Behavior of Prices, pages 31-36 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Lach, Saul & Tsiddon, Daniel, 1992. "The Behavior of Prices and Inflation: An Empirical Analysis of Disaggregated Price Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(2), pages 349-389, April.
    4. Vining, Daniel R, Jr & Elwertowski, Thomas C, 1976. "The Relationship between Relative Prices and the General Price Level," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(4), pages 699-708, September.
    5. Frederick C. Mills, 1927. "The Behavior of Prices," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number mill27-1.
    6. Frederick C. Mills, 1927. "Appendix to "The Behavior of Prices"," NBER Chapters,in: The Behavior of Prices, pages 441-586 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Sheremirov, Viacheslav, 2015. "Price dispersion and inflation: new facts and theoretical implications," Working Papers 15-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    8. Reinsdorf, Marshall, 1994. "New Evidence on the Relation between Inflation and Price Dispersion," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 720-731, June.
    9. Etienne Gagnon, 2009. "Price Setting during Low and High Inflation: Evidence from Mexico," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(3), pages 1221-1263.
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    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The case for a higher inflation target gets stronger
      by Steve Cecchetti and Kim Schoenholtz in Money, Banking and Financial Markets on 2017-04-03 17:48:01

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Francesco D’Acunto & Daniel Hoang & Michael Weber, 2017. "The Effect of Unconventional Fiscal Policy on Consumption Expenditure," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 15(1), pages 09-11, April.
    2. Philippe Andrade & Jordi Galí & Hervé Le Bihan & Julien Matheron, 2017. "The optimal inflation target and the natural rate of interest," Economics Working Papers 1591, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    3. Yasufumi Gemma & Takushi Kurozumi & Mototsugu Shintani, 2017. "Trend Inflation and Evolving Inflation Dynamics: A Bayesian GMM Analysis of the Generalized New Keynesian Phillips Curve," IMES Discussion Paper Series 17-E-10, Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, Bank of Japan.
    4. repec:eee:jfinec:v:129:y:2018:i:1:p:46-68 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Daniel Villar Vallenas & Shaowen Luo, 2017. "The Skewness of the Price Change Distribution : A New Touchstone for Sticky Price Models," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2017-028, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    6. Damjan Pfajfar & John M. Roberts, 2018. "The Role of Expectations in Changed Inflation Dynamics," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2018-062, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    7. D’Acunto, Francesco & Liu, Ryan & Pflueger, Carolin & Weber, Michael, 2018. "Flexible prices and leverage," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(1), pages 46-68.
    8. Harald Uhlig, 2016. "Comment on "Jump-Starting the Euro Area Recovery: Would a Rise in Core Fiscal Spending Help the Periphery?"," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2016, Volume 31, pages 183-197 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Volker Hahn & Michal Marencak, 2018. "Price Points and Price Dynamics," Working Paper Series of the Department of Economics, University of Konstanz 2018-01, Department of Economics, University of Konstanz.
    10. Michael T. Kiley & John M. Roberts, 2017. "Monetary Policy in a Low Interest Rate World," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 48(1 (Spring), pages 317-396.
    11. Jean-Philippe Bouchaud & Stanislao Gualdi & Marco Tarzia & Francesco Zamponi, 2018. "Optimal inflation target: insights from an agent-based model," Post-Print hal-01768441, HAL.
    12. S. Dupraz, 2017. "A Kinked-Demand Theory of Price Rigidity," Working papers 656, Banque de France.
    13. repec:aea:jecper:v:31:y:2017:i:3:p:47-66 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation
    • E50 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - General

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