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A cultural history of inflation in America

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The title of this post is more in the way of a question regarding whether such a thing exists. The reason I’m asking is that, in the course of researching higher education costs in America back to the middle of the 19th century, I discovered something that flew in the face of what I had always assumed about how inflation works in a money economy. What I assumed was that a moderate amount of price inflation is normal — that is, continual rather than episodic — in such economies, and that deflation is rare. Furthermore, I thought (to the extent that unexamined assumptions can be called thinking) any significant or prolonged deflation is an economic disaster, and is something to be feared and avoided even more than hyper-inflation.

Again, these beliefs were the product of nothing more than the fact that this is how things have “always” been as long as I can remember, and that my extremely limited historical knowledge of the subject stretched back no further than the Great Depression, when deflation did help wreak havoc on both the American and world economy.

As many readers no doubt already know, this historical view of inflation and deflation in America — which I suspect, based on my study featuring an N = 1, is quite widespread — is totally wrong.

In fact until about 75 years ago, deflation had been as a historical matter as common in America as inflation. This fact produced what were to me some shocking revelations, including:

(1) Overall prices in the American economy were about the same at the beginning of FDR’s presidency as they had been at the end of George Washington’s second term.

(2) Prices were nearly 25% lower in 1900 than they were in 1800 — that is, on net the 19th century was deflationary.

(3) Prior to the middle of the 20th century, significant inflation, rather than being seen as a normal thing, was very closely associated with, and clearly caused by, war. Indeed, prices would have been very strongly deflationary over a 200-year period if not for bouts of severe inflation during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I.

(4) If we consider American economic history from colonial times to the present, the last 75 years have been an almost freakish exception to the normal course of events, in which prices are as apt to fall as they are to rise.

I suspect the last point has had some important cultural and political effects — hence the title of this post. What are the consequences of a generalized sense that prices always rise? Let me suggest just one of many possibilities: people may become relatively desensitized to real as opposed to nominal price increases, because over the long run nominal price increases become so extreme.*

In other words, a general sense that “things cost so much more today than they did back in X” may tend to blur distinctions between different sorts of things, some of which haven’t actually become more expensive in real terms (or have become much cheaper), and some of which very much have.

This of course is just one of many possibilities. In any case, I’m curious about the extent to which the historical anomaly of continual inflation since the end of the Great Depression has been written about, especially in regard to its possible cultural effects.

*I now understand something that puzzled me when I first read Keynes’ “Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren,” which was his statement of money values in nominal terms when he compared the the 18th century with the early 20th century. Habituated as we are to a world in which prices always rise, I naturally assumed that nominal prices in the former and latter periods had nothing to do with comparative real prices, just as looking at, for example, the nominal price of a car in 1950 tells you nothing about the real price of car then relative to now. But it turns out that, until the last few decades, economists could treat even 200-year stretches of time as featuring relatively stable prices in the long run!

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  • Denverite

    Couldn’t you tell a story about the increasing income equality of the past few decades whereby the rich are grabbing an increasingly large piece of the pie because they’re debt holdings have gotten a lot more risky and a lot less valuable?

  • Derelict

    I have a really hard time with pieces like this because the comparisons between items in 1800 and those in 2000 are strained at best. What was the price of a desk-top computer in 1800? How much does it cost to have a wheel replaced on your two-horse dray in 2000?

    Even if you restrict your comparisons to “essential” items, it’s still extremely strained–if for no other reason than that many essential items were made in the home. For example, candles were made from beef tallow that women rendered in the home. You don’t find many people making lightbulbs these days. Likewise, clothing was made from bolts of cloth that women purchased and brought home to sew into skirts, pants, blouses, etc. So how to do compare the price of a shirt made from a bolt of cloth and sewn at home by hand to a shirt made in Bangladesh and purchased at K-Mart?

    • ThrottleJockey

      Yeah, over long periods of time technology exerts downward pressure on prices. That’s not the same as it being deflationary. Henry Ford’s assembly line made cars cheaper, but it was in no way deflationary. For it to be considered deflation (or inflation) you have to hold the nature of the product constant. That’s not possible over a 100 year time span.

      Its hard to do even over a 30 year time span. Thirty years ago fuel economy was 20% less, front and side air bags were only found on luxury cars, and in car Wi-Fi didn’t even exist. Thirty years ago there were still plenty of cars sold without power steering!

      Back to that groundbreakingly cheap Model T from the pre-First World War era, the one that sold for $850. In 2012, using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to adjust for dollar value, that equals about $22,000. [Spend $22,000 today and you’d get a car that was 3 times faster and a 100 times safer.]

      With increased efficiency, the synthesis of cheaper and more durable materials, and economies of scale, the real price of economy cars ought to decline with time. That Vietnam-era Volkswagen Bug sold for the equivalent of $10,500 in 2012 dollars.

      • sparks

        By the late ’80s only small cars like the Civic/Corolla, small Japanese trucks, and sports cars didn’t come with power steering. Even American pickups were hard to find without it. Early ’80s though, you are right, power steering was still a luxury extra. I bought and drove a lot of different cars in the ’80s, and my Scirocco and Supra were the only ones that didn’t have PS.

        The most surprising to me was power windows, a luxury only standard in big land yachts through the ’70s. My Corolla had them standard when I bought it in the ’00s.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Pop drove a Chevy Cavalier in ’88 and it didn’t have power steering. It might have been a ’85 or ’84 model but I don’t think it was much older than that. Man I hated that car. And it was still better than the hoopty (’76 Pontiac Astra) he otherwise drove.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        You’re looking at the wrong products.

        Try “a loaf of bread”

        • Derelict

          Even a loaf of bread doesn’t make the cut. In 1800, most households baked their own bread. Buying bread from a bakery was for urban households.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Nice pun! Speaking of cut, we didn’t even have sliced bread until the early ’30s. As part of its rationing efforts during WW2 the US banned sliced bread for a time until the consumer backlash proved too much, as described in this NY Times Letter to the Editor:

            “I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that’s ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!”

    • cpinva

      women buying bolts of cloth, then making the family clothes out of it, didn’t start (in the US anyway) until at least a hundred years in. they made cloth out of raw flax or cotton (the spinning wheel), then made clothes out of that. the wealthy planters may have purchased bolts of cloth, from England, but that was the exception to the rule.

      the “market basket”, used to determine inflation/deflation, is primarily food items: bread, meat, vegetables, milk, etc. but, as you noted, these were also items mostly made at home, in early America, so hard to draw comparisons. also, I’m pretty sure most early Americans weren’t too concerned about the price of a gallon of regular.

      • Derelict

        A much more interesting economic comparison might be looking at the monetary/liquidity needs of Americans living in the frontier/agrarian society versus the monetary/liquidity needs of more modern citizens. The first homesteaders in the Cumberland Gap probably didn’t need much money as they were largely self-sufficient. A net income of $5 a year was likely enough to purchase whatever they couldn’t make themselves (e.g., ax heads, gun powder, sewing needles, etc.).

        By 1960, with the economy having shifted entirely to an industrialized basis, almost nobody was self sufficient. Even farmers in fairly remote areas could not make the vast majority of the goods they used, whether we’re talking about clothing, food stuffs, or equipment. Now everyone needed a fairly substantial income orders of magnitude greater than what our frontier farmer needed in 1800.

        This isn’t inflation. It’s that the nature of the economy and of day-to-day existence are both completely different.

  • Turkle

    Sorry for the long post:

    The absolute go-to text for a cultural history of inflation is Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century.” He does a marvelous job of explaining how for many hundreds of years, prices basically did not move, until quite recently.

    One example he gave is that in novels written prior to the emergence of inflation, writers would regularly include the prices of things: food, houses, income, property, etc. because they knew that even several lifetimes later, those numbers would make sense. Once generalized inflation set in, however, authors stopped including actual prices of property, preferring instead for the characters to say “my, that is a very large sum” or similar.

    Piketty also makes clear that inflation has extremely important, if often unpredictable, effects on different classes in the long run. Doug Henwood is also excellent on this point in his book Wall Street. Beyond the obvious point that debtors prefer inflation and creditors do not, you can imagine how different classes would perceive rising inflation differently.

    When governments run up unpayable debts (a common occurrence before the rise of modern central banking), it is often politically difficult to raise taxes to pay them, so they would often choose to inflate their debts away. The problem is that this was often extremely messy and unpredictable, with the eventual winners and losers difficult to foresee.

    Anyway, I think that your cultural history of inflation should definitely take into account the effects of such inflation on the different classes – since so much culture is created by elites in order to assuage middle-class anxieties, I think that is going to be the lens through which mass culture presents the issue.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that the Fed’s current inflation target of 2% (which functions more as a hard cap than a target) creates clear winners and losers in a society where certain classes are in a position to take advantage of that and others are not.

    • Robert Farley

      This. Piketty is very good on the transition to inflation-as-normal, both on the cultural and economic sides. Although I do think that he could have used the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald to good effect in illustrating both.

    • ThrottleJockey

      The Economist also has a good, if more compact, discussion on the cultural history of inflation:

      One consequence of wide changes in relative prices is that individuals may face widely differing inflation rates, if their spending differs much from the national average. Older people, for instance, are likely to spend more on medical care and domestic services, such as those of gardeners and cleaners, that have risen sharply in price…

      Take George, a 60-year-old, who smokes, drinks whisky and wears suits. He drives a car, and likes to travel business class and to stay in luxury hotels. He employs a cleaner and a gardener. He pays a hefty premium for medical insurance, and has to meet his son’s college fees. His average inflation rate for such discretionary spending—ie, excluding housing, food and heating—over the past ten years would have been 4% (if one calculates a crude arithmetical average of the different items).

      George has one advantage: his suits have not changed in price over the past decade and his wife’s dresses now cost 30% less. In contrast, the flashy sneakers that her nephew Ben favours have risen a little in price, and his Levi 501s by a hefty 65%. But Ben prefers beer or Coke to spirits, eats Big Macs, rides a bike, is inseparable from his mobile phone, laptop computer and the Internet. And he doesn’t mind flying economy class. The price of his gym membership, however, has jumped by more than half over the decade. Adding it all up, his average inflation rate for discretionary spending has been minus 1%. These inflation rates are crude, as unweighted averages of just a few selected items must be. But in general many older people do indeed face higher inflation than the young.

      • Turkle

        That’s an excellent point. Different age groups will see their commodities inflate / deflate at different rates. Medical care for the elderly is only the most striking example.

        Something else not mentioned in the Economist article: in conditions of increasing economic inequality, the rich have the ability to “bid up” the price of certain luxuries and necessities far above what one would normally expect. For instance, in her book “The Two-Income Trap,” Elizabeth Warren showed how so much of the increase in American wealth from having multiple incomes was spent directly to bid up property prices in an effort to gain access to better schools. The prices people pay for other luxuries is inflated this way as well (e.g. fashion, cruises, etc.). In conditions of high structural inequality, bidding wars can cause massive inflation on rivalrous goods, far and above the general macroeconomic rate of inflation and independent of technological advances.

        Something that Piketty and Henwood both consider as well is the long-term effects of inflation/deflation and the rate of economic growth on the wealth of holders of certain asset classes: inflation and growth will affect government bondholders differently from currency speculators, and those differently from stockholders, and those differently from pensioners, etc. So there are large macroeconomic effects from differing inflation rates, and the currently “acceptable” rate of inflation is definitely a compromise between competing economic groups. That is, the “accepted” rate of inflation is definitely a political number, rather than a narrowly technocratic/economic one, and has been the subject of much struggle between competing interests.

        (Henwood, IIRC, makes a strong argument describing the political struggle in the US that eventually led macroeconomic policymakers to favor a slow but always positive rate of growth – they seek to make the economy always grow but not too fast!)

        • agorabum

          If you want to find value, its very important to stay away from what the elite sees as desirable. It can be hard to do that for ‘good schools’ – sometimes that may mean moving to an entirely different geographical area. But for things like vacations, there are a lot of neat corners of the world that you can find that are not on the hotlist of the elite.

    • heckblazer

      According to this Slate article Piketty is wromg about novels. The literary historians who wrote it ran a statistical analysis and the trend they found was the inverse, that as inflation increased so did the mentions of specific amounts of money. I don’t think I can summarize their thoughts well so I’d suggest reading it for yourself.

      • Origami Isopod

        I’ll attempt a summary. Piketty is wrong on the strict argument that between the start of WWI and the end of WWII, specific mentions of money gradually disappeared from novels. On the other hand, the reasons for this do not refute his basic arguments.

        There are two reasons. The first is that “references to money … proliferate, but at the same time shrink.” Authors are focusing less on the wealthy and their estates and more on ordinary people, concurrent with growing literacy and the decreasing cost of books. So money qua money is mentioned more often, but the amounts are far smaller, because the characters are not rich.

        The second is the overall trend of realism, because authors felt that naming specific sums of money whose value ordinary readers would automatically grasp helped “situate stories precisely in a familiar world.”

        The authors say that Piketty has made the same mistake too many literary critics have: letting their mental picture of early 20th century lit be shaped by “a select canon of modernist novels,” like The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      Thirded. Piketty also has a lovely page or two about the current cost of college in the US and how the average household income of $450,000 for Harvard students kinda destroys their PR of being a need-blind hyper-meritocracy.

    • JS

      Oops. Missed this before I wrote my post below. But yeah, this.

  • One consequence of the change from a roughly steady-state cycle of inflation and deflation to one of only high and low inflation is that people have forgotten how awful deflation is. We’ve never had people starving in the street in this country from inflation but we sure as hell have from deflation.

    This matters not because I think we’re going to suddenly return to the old cycle, but because two semi-popular ideas – the gold standard and bitcoin – are inherently deflationary. I’ve never heard the fans of either idea address deflation.

    • ThrottleJockey

      This. Here’s a link to a graph which shows the Boom-Bust (Inflation-Deflation) cycles which used to characterize the American economy. Those bust times were extremely hard on middle class and poor Americans. Because of progressivism, frankly, we now have things to help prevent deflation: Unemployment insurance, Social Security, Welfare, Food Stamps all help maintain demand when the economy enters a downturn, making deflation somewhat less likely.

      So, yeah, deflation is still the bogeyman your parents told you about.

      • My grandfather would say that during the Depression a hamburger only cost a nickel, but you didn’t have a nickel.

    • Lee Rudolph

      I’ve never heard the fans of either idea address deflation.

      However, we’ve all heard those fans condemn the notion of people starving in the streets!!!

    • UserGoogol

      A lot of those sorts of people explicitly argue that deflation is a good thing: either by simplistically making the argument that things get cheaper so that’s good, or making the slightly more sophisticated argument that deflation is good for savers, and clearly savers deserve to be rewarded.

      More generally, a lot of gold-bugs (Austrians in particular) take the perspective that the economy should be able to adjust to any “natural” price situation and it’s just the central bank ruining things which causes problems.

    • Brett

      EDIT: Never mind

      • Okay, but the suspense is killing me.

        • Brett

          Wasn’t sure how to put it. I’m curious as to how the deflationary tendencies, extremely severe boom-bust fluctuations, and very low overall average growth rate in the 19th century squared together. I suppose you could say that every time the economy was really starting to take off, deflation cut it back down – and then over, and over, and over again it went.

          • Interesting question. I hope someone qualified to answer – i.e., not me – addresses it.

            • Paul Campos

              But at least in regard to the last third (1865 to 1900) of the 19th century the story is just the opposite. This was a time of enormous economic growth — real GDP more than quadrupled, while real per capita GDP nearly doubled — and sharp deflation (prices fell by nearly 50%).

              • ThrottleJockey

                That was a time of enormous technological change; it really makes the ’90s Internet thing look like a snail’s race. You have to separate out price decreases due to technological factors from price decreases due to monetary supply and demand. The former isn’t deflationary at all. For instance big screen TVs have been dropping in price every year since they were introduced but that’s not considered “deflationary” since the technology of the product and production process is changing rapidly. For it to be deflationary you have to hold constant the product and production processes.

                • Paul Campos

                  This sounds exactly like the right wing argument about why the economy boomed in the 1990s even though taxes went up because Internet/Dot.com something something.

                  The last 250 years have been a time of enormous technological change.

              • Brett

                I know you criticize the technological change argument just above this, but there really is a case for it here. We’re talking about a massive ramp-up in railroads, manufacturing of many goods, and overall integration of the regional economies of the US into a national one. That’s going to mislead you on price deflation.

    • The gold standard could be deflationary. Maybe.

      Or maybe instead of tinkering with the interbank rate, the Fed would simply raise the price of an ounce of gold and print more money anyway. They did it at least once in the 20th Century…in order to fight deflation.

      Bitcoin is a ridiculous notion and inherently not worthy of serious discussion. It will never and can never be a widespread exchange mechanism, so it will never have any real effect on economic activity. We might as well discuss barter.

  • marcel proust

    For an even longer view of price level changes, check out The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History by David Hackett Fischer (best known for Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: A Cultural History)

    • Nick never Nick

      Yes, thanks for bringing this up. I found this book fascinating, especially in the way that the four periods of sustained inflation that it discussed all came to an end as various social elite managed to bogart more and more of the available resources, and game the political process.

  • AB

    There is a lot of relevant data in Sidney Homer’s A History of Interest Rates.

  • Just_Dropping_By

    Although it’s 20 years old, Richard H. Timberlake’s Monetary Policy in the United States: An Intellectual and Institutional History is the best single book on the history of deflation/inflation in the U.S. that I’ve found.

  • DrS

    I believe that a good part of our current economic situation has been exacerbated by cultural attitudes about inflation formed during the late 70s stagflation.

    The people that remember that the most as a significant event are older, more conservative and they vote. They worry about inflation all the time.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      not sure it relates except as an example of how things change: my dad’s generation of farmers found themselves trying to pay back loans at 18% or more back in the 70s and early 80s- a lot of them couldn’t do it- and now they’ve retired and are getting *fractional* interest rates on their savings

    • catclub

      You would think that the Germans would learn that having 47% unemployment turned out MUCH worse than the experience they had with hyperinflation.
      But no. Of course, people with paper assets were ruined by the hyperinflation – where ruined means they still had their jobs.

      • Brett

        I think there’s a much more recent factor that their government has to keep in mind, and that’s the wage repression that their companies and unions have engaged in since the early 2000s (in order to save jobs in particular sectors, such as manufacturing). Stronger inflation would put a lot of pressure for that agreement to end and wages to go up, something they’re already feeling heat for (witness the fact that they finally passed a statutory minimum wage).

  • BruceJ

    Prices were nearly 25% lower in 1900 than they were in 1800 — that is, on net the 19th century was deflationary.

    The 19th century saw the advent of the industrial revolution which makes our current pace of technological change look as if the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s were introduced ten years apart.

    Human society was pretty much completely altered; the unstoppable migration from rural agrarian to urban industrial society started then.

    It was also a time of frequent panics, recessions and depressions and sudden increases in the money supply (the various gold and silver rushes).

    Finally, I don’t believe that we can meaningfully compare modern economies and earlier ones for that very reason: we no longer use precious metals as the basis of our currency, even nominally*. We can get a sense of what things cost then versus now, but hell, even that is iffy.

    A house in 1880 and a house in 1820 were built entirely differently. Modern ‘balloon’ construction, which came to dominate in the late 1800’s, depended on mechanically produced and highly standardized nails and lumber. It also depended far less on highly skilled labor, and thus could be produced more cheaply, with in terms of materials and labor costs.

    *The goldbugs and tinfoil hat brigade will point to that and say “See! It’s all because we left the holy gold standard! Fiat Money! Fractional Reserve banking! Lizard People! Boogedy!”

    I got into an online argument once with a guy who was a farmer, arguing that deflation was a good thing, because it meant that the money stuffed into his mattress was worth more next year.

    “You do understand that that would make any loans you take out, such as to pay for new equipment, or seed and fertilizer much more expensive, because if money is worth less all the time, to make money a lender much charge a much higher interest rate? That your crops would be worth less on the market at harvest time?” resulted in an octopus-like ink cloud of gibberish about, yep, Fiat money, fractional reserve banking and the like.

    He was just so irrationally convinced that Inflation==evil==god-damned liberals!! that he failed to comprehend basic economics.

    On the other hand, it’s not all that uncommon, a very great many economists and financial pundits fail to comprehend basic economics as well

    • Just_Dropping_By

      You apparently also don’t comprehend basic economics if you think deflation would cause banks to charge “a much higher interest rate” on their loans. In a sufficiently sustained deflationary economy, a lender could theoretically make money even lending at zero percent interest so long as the loan was sufficiently large that the borrower couldn’t immediately pay it back — because each dollar repaid in the future would be worth more than when it was originally loaned.

      • Nick never Nick

        In the book The Great Wave, which examines four periods of sustained inflation and the intervening deflation, the general trend is that skilled artisans and renters do better in deflation; sustained inflation sustains rentiers, landowners, and people with access to capital.

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  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Jerome Karabel’s “The Chosen” has some wonderful data on HYP socioeconomic backgrounds for the span of the 20th century; I can’t recall offhand whether he has any data for the 19th century, however.

  • JS

    Piketty talks a lot about this in his Capital. He has especially nice discussions of Austen and Balzac mentioning actual prices in their novels, and how this was only possible against a background where prices were expected to stay quite stable across long periods of time. This is (of course) tied in with this discussion of historical patterns of economic growth. All very good.

    • heckblazer

      As I noted above, some literary historians who’ve done a statistical analysis of 7,700 works of English language fiction that found that mentions of actual prices increased in frequency between 1825 and 1950.

    • DrDick

      I actually encountered this researching average income at various points and discovered that for most of the 19th century (and into the first decade of the 20th century) they generally fluctuated between $350-$450/per year for households.

  • JustRuss

    Didn’t Clemens assume significant inflation between medieval times and the mid-nineteenth century in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court? Not that he’s authoritative, but it does suggest that assumption of inflation is not a recent phenomenon.

  • Richard Hershberger

    As an anecdatum, when professional baseball arose there was a lot of discussion about what the price of admission should be. In the earliest period, the 1860s, the discussion was between 10 cents and 25. There was one game with a $1 admission, but this was considered outrageous. In the 1870s the debated settled into an argument between 25 and 50 cents. This ran through the 1880s before finally resolving in the 1890s on 50 cents, where it remained well into the 20th century.

    On the other hand, this really was just for admission, at least into the 1880s. You paid extra for a seat. How much varied, but it could be as high as $1 in addition to the base entrance fee. The 1870s saw the genesis of the journalistic evergreen article calculating the ridiculous cost of attending a game, and how ordinary people can’t afford it anymore:

    “First, a mechanic loses a half a day, equal to at least $1.25. Then should he wish his wife and daughter to accompany him, the car fare through the city, both ways, would be thirty cents, ferriage twelve cents, and fifty cents, as at present, for his own admission, would make a total of $2.47. Is this not paying too much for the whistle?” New York Sunday Mercury August 20, 1876

    Note that the women get in free. Note also that lowering the entry fee to 25 cents would result in only marginal savings. The bulk of the costs lay elsewhere. Here is another one, this time a letter to the editor:

    “Sir: On the Fourth, I felt rich, and I concluded to take it on the shell, no matter what the price. Well, the game–Athletic-Philadelphia–cost me nearly $2, as follows:– Entrance 50 cents, seat $1, fares 25 cents, four beers 20 cents. This will last me until next year. If they would reduce the price to a reasonable figure, I would go out accasionally [sic]–but, it is really too heavy.” Philadelphia All-Day City Item July 6, 1874

    Had he been willing to stand and keep sober the cost would have been less than half that.

    • ChrisS

      This is fascinating and something that I’ve always suspected (the evergreen article). It seems like I’ve seen something like this every year of my (relatively brief life).

    • On the other hand, this really was just for admission, at least into the 1880s. You paid extra for a seat. How much varied, but it could be as high as $1 in addition to the base entrance fee. The 1870s saw the genesis of the journalistic evergreen article calculating the ridiculous cost of attending a game, and how ordinary people can’t afford it anymore:

      So this is basically the modern “Seat License” that NFL teams have created.

      BTW, 25 cents can hardly be considered nominal. It’s about an hour’s work based on the info the correspondent submitted (losing $1.25 in a half-day’s wages).

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  • Eli Rabett

    Looks like the cold war had the intended effect. Supporting large armed forces and an armaments industry steals resources from useful things.

  • You’d have to offset the “deflation” with such things as productivity gains due to technology during the Industrial Revolution, as well as the easing of the Little Ice Age and its effect on agricultural production, Paul.

    My suspicion is that deflation in the 18 and 19 Centuries was an extended one-off but I haven’t really studied up on it.

    And sure enough…Wiki confirms my suspicions. The deflation was centered in twenty years, not an entire century but it was large-scale and enough to wipe out inflation from the other decades.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Deflation

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