Why Do Governments Target 2% Inflation?
The Bank of Canada maintains an inflation rate target of 2%. The official websites of Central Banks in the U.S., in Europe, and in Japan all appear to target this magical number when deciding how to conduct their monetary policies. But why? Inflation isn’t necessarily a good thing. There are ways to grow the economy and generate prosperity without increasing the cost of goods and services. But inflation does provide the government with two major advantages!
1. Taxation by Inflation
In the book, The Greatest Con, author Irwin Schiff explains that, “inflation is the government’s silent partner,” because it allows the government to earn more tax revenue, without officially increasing tax rates. For example, a mechanic who made $40,000/yr in the 1980s could be making $80,000/yr doing the same work today due to inflation. If his cost of living also doubled then this looks fine on the surface. However, an $80,000 income is subject to a higher tax bracket than $40,000. Since his marginal tax rate went up, the mechanic will pay a larger proportion of his earned income to taxes today than in the past. This is how federal income tax rates can remain the same, but workers end up paying more tax over time.
2. Eroding the Value of Debt
Inflation reduces the value of money. Let’s say we owe $100 to a friend and inflation is at 2%. We can pay back the $100 after a year. But by then its value would only be $98. Just about every major country in the world owes debt. The U.S. owes about $20 trillion. At 2% inflation, the value of this huge liability would fall by $400 billion a year. That’s a lot of debt to be forgiven. 🙂 The typical investor who buys fixed income funds would likely have government bonds in their portfolios. Unfortunately as a result of inflation, the bond holders (savers) get the short end of the stick while the government (borrower) becomes better off.
“As inflation shrinks the value of currency, it increases the relative value of equity investment. Thus, inflation is a process by which purchasing power is shifted from the middle and lower classes, who have their savings in fixed dollar investments, to the upper classes, who have the bulk of their wealth in equities.” ~Irwin Schiff