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Venezuela’s Hyperinflation Drags on for a Near Record — 36 Months

November 13, 2019 in Economics

By Steve H. Hanke

Steve H. Hanke

Venezuela is the only country in the world that is suffering from the ravages of hyperinflation. But, you wouldn’t know it from reading the press, where playing fast and loose with words is commonplace. Indeed, the word “hyperinflation” is thrown around carelessly and misused frequently, with claims that multiple countries are suffering from hyperinflation. The debasement of language in the popular press has gone to such lengths that the word “hyperinflation” has almost lost its meaning.

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So, just what is the definition of this oft-misused word? The convention adopted in the scientific literature is to classify an inflation as a hyperinflation if the monthly inflation rate exceeds 50%. This definition was adopted in 1956, after Phillip Cagan published his seminal analysis of hyperinflation, which appeared in a book, edited by Milton Friedman, Studies in the Quantity Theory of Money.

Since I use high-frequency data to measure inflation in countries where inflation is elevated, I have been able to refine Cagan’s 50% per month hyperinflation hurdle. With improved measurement techniques, I now define a hyperinflation as an inflation in which the inflation rate exceeds 50% per month for at least thirty consecutive days.

Just what is Venezuela’s inflation rate? Today, the annual inflation rate is 10,398% per year. How do I measure elevated inflation? The most important price in an economy is the exchange rate between the local currency – in this case, the bolivar – and the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. dollar. As long as there is an active black market (read: free market) for currency and the black-market data are available, changes in the black-market exchange rate can be reliably transformed into accurate measurements of countrywide inflation rates. The economic principle of purchasing power parity (PPP) allows for this transformation. The application of PPP to measure elevated inflation rates is both simple and very accurate.

Evidence from Germany’s 1920–23 hyperinflation episode – as reported by Jacob Frenkel in the July 1976 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Economics – confirms the accuracy of PPP during hyperinflations. Frenkel plotted the Deutschmark/U.S. dollar exchange rate against both the German wholesale price index and the consumer price index (CPI). The correlations between Germany’s exchange rate and the two price indices were very close to unity throughout the period, with the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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