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Fortunately, pensions and other defined benefits retirement plans are increasingly rare, replaced instead by “defined contribution” plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. In these plans, the employer contributes a fixed amount to the worker’s retirement account on a regular basis (usually every pay check). The employee often contributes as well. The worker invests these funds in a wide range of investment vehicles. These plans are tax deferred, and they are portable so that if the individual takes a job with a different employer, their 401(k) comes with them. To the extent that the investments made generate real rates of return, retirees do not suffer from the inflation costs of traditional pensioners.

However, ordinary people can sometimes benefit from the unintended redistributions of inflation. Consider someone who borrows $10,000 to buy a car at a fixed interest rate of 9%. If inflation is 3% at the time the loan is made, then the loan must be repaid at a real interest rate of 6%. But if inflation rises to 9%, then the real interest rate on the loan is zero. In this case, the borrower’s benefit from inflation is the lender’s loss. A borrower paying a fixed interest rate, who benefits from inflation, is just the flip side of an investor receiving a fixed interest rate, who suffers from inflation. The lesson is that when interest rates are fixed, rises in the rate of inflation tend to penalize suppliers of financial capital, who end up being repaid in dollars that are worth less because of inflation, while demanders of financial capital end up better off, because they can repay their loans in dollars that are worth less than originally expected.

The unintended redistributions of buying power caused by inflation may have a broader effect on society. America’s widespread acceptance of market forces rests on a perception that people’s actions have a reasonable connection to market outcomes. When inflation causes a retiree who built up a pension or invested at a fixed interest rate to suffer, however, while someone who borrowed at a fixed interest rate benefits from inflation, it is hard to believe that this outcome was deserved in any way. Similarly, when homeowners benefit from inflation because the price of their homes rises, while renters suffer because they are paying higher rent, it is hard to see any useful incentive effects. One of the reasons that inflation is so disliked by the general public is a sense that it makes economic rewards and penalties more arbitrary—and therefore likely to be perceived as unfair – even dangerous, as the next Clear It Up feature shows.

Is there a connection between german hyperinflation and hitler’s rise to power?

Germany suffered an intense hyperinflation of its currency, the Mark, in the years after World War I, when the Weimar Republic in Germany resorted to printing money to pay its bills and the onset of the Great Depression created the social turmoil that Adolf Hitler could take advantage of in his rise to power. Shiller described the connection this way in a National Bureau of Economic Research 1996 Working Paper:

A fact that is probably little known to young people today, even in Germany, is that the final collapse of the Mark in 1923, the time when the Mark’s inflation reached astronomical levels (inflation of 35,974.9% in November 1923 alone, for an annual rate that month of 4.69 × 10 28 %), came in the same month as did Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, his Nazi Party’s armed attempt to overthrow the German government. This failed putsch resulted in Hitler’s imprisonment, at which time he wrote his book Mein Kampf , setting forth an inspirational plan for Germany’s future, suggesting plans for world domination. . .
. . . Most people in Germany today probably do not clearly remember these events; this lack of attention to it may be because its memory is blurred by the more dramatic events that succeeded it (the Nazi seizure of power and World War II). However, to someone living through these historical events in sequence . . . [the putsch] may have been remembered as vivid evidence of the potential effects of inflation.

Practice Essay 4

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Source:  OpenStax, Textbook for mccormick's principles of macroeconomics course. OpenStax CNX. Jul 11, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11940/1.20
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