Inflation: Why We Should Probably Count Food and Fuel After All
By Bryan Caplan
When I was a strongly Austrian-influence undergraduate, I scoffed at people who downplayed inflation by saying, “Well, if you ignore food and fuel…” It seemed like a sleazy effort to cover up a government-created problem by refusing to count a big part of the problem.
Once I got to grad school, though, I started to rethink my position. Food and fuel really are much more volatile than other goods for reasons (like drought and hurricanes) that have nothing to do with monetary policy. If you want to isolate the portion of inflation to pin on the Fed, dropping food and fuel seemed like a reasonable procedure.
Lately, though, I’ve started to think that I was right the first time around. True, food and fuel are unusually subject to supply shocks. But as commodities, sticky-price models tell us that food and fuel are the very sectors where the effects of loose monetary policy will become visible first. Think about it this way: Suppose there are ten goods. Nine have big menu costs; one has no menu cost. If you helicopter drop money on this economy, the short-run effect will be a sharp spike in the price of the good without a menu cost. Dropping the zero-menu-cost food from your price index masks an inflationary effect that should have been obvious.
Are there any data series out there that try to deal with my concern? How successful are they?