"By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose." - John Maynard Keynes
The Inflation Tax
by Ron Paul
All government spending represents a tax. The inflation tax, while largely ignored, hurts middle-class and low-income Americans the most. Simply put, printing money to pay for federal spending dilutes the value of the dollar, which causes higher prices for goods and services. Inflation may be an indirect tax, but it is very real – the individuals who suffer most from cost of living increases certainly pay a “tax.”
Unfortunately no one in Washington, especially those who defend the poor and the middle class, cares about this subject. Instead, all we hear is that tax cuts for the rich are the source of every economic ill in the country. Anyone truly concerned about the middle class suffering from falling real wages, under-employment, a rising cost of living, and a decreasing standard of living should pay a lot more attention to monetary policy. Federal spending, deficits, and Federal Reserve mischief hurt the poor while transferring wealth to the already rich. This is the real problem, and raising taxes on those who produce wealth will only make conditions worse.
Borrowing money to cut the deficit is only marginally better than raising taxes. It may delay the pain for a while, but the cost of government eventually must be paid. Federal borrowing means the cost of interest is added, shifting the burden to a different group than those who benefited and possibly even to another generation. Eventually borrowing is always paid for through taxation.
The third option is for the Federal Reserve to create credit to pay the bills Congress runs up. Nobody objects, and most Members hope that deficits don’t really matter if the Fed accommodates Congress by creating more money. Besides, interest payments to the Fed are lower than they would be if funds were borrowed from the public, and payments can be delayed indefinitely merely by creating more credit out of thin air to buy U.S. treasuries. No need to soak the rich. A good deal, it seems, for everyone. But is it?
The “tax” is paid when prices rise as the result of a depreciating dollar. Savers and those living on fixed or low incomes are hardest hit as the cost of living rises. Low- and middle-incomes families suffer the most as they struggle to make ends meet while wealth is literally transferred from the middle class to the wealthy. Government officials stick to their claim that no significant inflation exists, even as certain necessary costs are skyrocketing and incomes are stagnating.
The transfer of wealth comes as savers and fixed-income families lose purchasing power, large banks benefit, and corporations receive plush contracts from the government – as is the case with military contractors. These companies use the newly printed money before it circulates, while the middle class is forced to accept it at face value later on. This becomes a huge hidden tax on the middle class, many of whom never object to government spending in hopes that the political promises will be fulfilled and they will receive some of the goodies. But surprise – it doesn’t happen. The result instead is higher prices for prescription drugs, energy, and other necessities. The freebies never come.
The moral of the story is that spending is always a tax. The inflation tax, though hidden, only makes things worse. Taxing, borrowing, and inflating to satisfy wealth transfers from the middle class to the rich in an effort to pay for profligate government spending, can never make a nation wealthier. But it certainly can make it poorer.