THE FINANCIAL PAGE
People really, really hate inflation. In polls, voters regularly cite high prices, as one of their biggest concerns, even when inflation is low. A 2001 study that looked at the “macroeconomics of happiness” found that higher inflation put a severe dent in how happy people reported themselves to be. The istaste for inflation is such that a 1996 study (titled, aptly, ‘Why Do People Dislike Inflation?”), by the Yale economist Robert Shiller, found that, in countries around the world, sizable majorities said that they would prefer low inflation and high unemployment to high inflation and low unemployment, even if that meant that millions of extra people would go without work.
So why is inflation unpopular? The biggest reason, Shiller found, was simply that people believe higher prices reduce their standard of living and make them “poorer.” This is obviously true for people living on fixed incomes or off their savings, but for everyone else, as many studies have shown, inflation translates into higher incomes as well as higher prices, and it typically doesn’t have much of an effect either way on people’s standard of living. (After all, we’ve had sixty years of inflation in the postwar era, yet we’re much more prosperous than we were in 1950.) That’s not how it feels, though: myopia leads us to focus on how much more we have to pay, rather than on how much more we earn. Inflation also sets off other alarm bells.
The phrase “That’s not how it feels…” most likely refers to which of the following?
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