'Low' Inflation Looks Higher When Other Measures Are Used

Lots of prices do seem to be heading north


There are lots of other ways to gauge inflation, however, that give very different signals. Gold was $930 an ounce when the recession ended, and today it's $1,583. So if you believe in the gold standard, prices have increased 70% in four years – or an annualized rate of 14.2%. Of course, many economists dismiss the gold price as an archaic indicator. So it may be more meaningful to look at price increases over a broad range of commodities. The Reuters CRB Commodity Index, which tracks the prices of coffee, cocoa, copper, and cotton, as well as energy, is up 38% over four years, or 8.6% at a compound annual rate.

It may well be that these increases in the cost of raw materials aren't translating into broader inflation because the economy is so weak. For sustained inflation to get going, workers have to be able to demand higher pay to make up for increases in their cost of living. And today, whatever inflation is caused by the rising cost of raw materials is being offset by below-normal increases in wages. Indeed, that's one of the factors causing the decline in real after-tax household income that I wrote about last week.