Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fun with Inflation

I've added a link (to the left) to an inflation calculator. This is by far the best one I've ever run across. Most calculators only use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and have a very limited time frame. This one has up to ten different measurements, depending on what question you would like answered, and can track the dollar back to 1774. Considering the U. S. dollar was not created until 1793 that's quite an accomplishment. I'm not sure how they do that. In any case, if you prefer the English pound, you can track that back to 1264. I haven't tried pounds yet.

As an example of what this can do, consider the life and times of Ulysses S. Grant. In 1857 a destitute Mr. Grant pawned his gold watch for $22. What would that get him in today's dollars? Classifying a watch as a household good, the CPI yields a value of $524.26. Enough to get you by for a little while, or a little less than my last set of tires. If we want to adjust for the watch as a status symbol compared to what other people earned at the time, using nominal GDP per capita, the value increases to $6,866.01. Two years later, in 1859, while preparing for a move to Illinois, Mr Grant set free the family slave rather than put him up for auction. In the late 1850's the St. Louis market price for a male field hand in good health was roughly $1,300. As a household good, the CPI yields a value of $32,516.13. As a status symbol the nominal GDP per capita yields a value of $402,629.14. The real eye opener here is the relative share of GDP which is a measurement of economic power. The value per slave was $3,913,790.01. At nearly $4million a pop one begins to get a sense of the power, and therefor political influence, of the large plantation owners in the years preceding the Civil War. It is also instructive to consider what kind of man it takes who would pawn his watch for $500 while taking a pass on $30,000 for a principle.

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