Argentina inflation Fabian Gredillas/Getty Images

The Destructive Power of Inflation

Argentina’s experience holds two crucial lessons for other countries. First, price stability is fragile, and the inflation rate can rise rapidly. And, second, high rates of inflation remain in the public’s memory and have long-lasting adverse effects.

CAMBRIDGE – When I was in Argentina last week, I was reminded of the devastating power of high inflation. Argentina’s annual inflation rate is now about 20%, down from an estimated rate of about 40% last year. The central bank is struggling to keep the economy on a disinflationary path, with a goal of achieving a 5% rate three years from now.

Inflation in Argentina has been much higher in the past. For the 15 years from 1975 to 1990, the annual rate averaged a remarkable 300%, meaning that the price level doubled every few months, on average. Prices rose at an explosive annual rate of more than 1,000% in 1989, before inflation was finally brought under control.

In fact, inflation was all but extinguished. I remember being in Argentina in the mid-1990s, when there was virtually no inflation. Back then, the Argentine peso was pegged to the US dollar, and both currencies were used equally for day-to-day transactions on the streets of Buenos Aires.

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