We are all familiar with the term inflation. Most of the time it refers to prices and money supply, and is discussed on a regular basis. But few mention inflation’s ugly stepchild, “panflation”.

Panflation, as coined in an article in the Economist, refers to the inflation of nearly anything besides prices. For instance:

“The average British size 14 pair of women’s trousers is now more than four inches wider at the waist than it was in the 1970s. In other words, today’s size 14 is really what used to be labelled a size 18; a size 10 is really a size 14.”

While this isn’t particularly surprising given the British women I’ve seen, it highlights a trend in many other markets as well. Take the travel industry for example. The top of the line five star hotel of yesterday is no match for six or seven star hotels. The amount of frequent flyer miles needed for a free flight has skyrocketed.

“This was inevitable: airlines have been issuing so many miles (for spending on the ground as well as in the air) that the total stock is worth more than all the dollar notes and coins in circulation. Central bankers would shudder at such reckless inflationary policies—were they not themselves earning triple miles up in first class.”

Other notable examples of “panflation” include grade inflation (which I believe has been discussed on here) as more students today earn “A” grades than ever before, yet studies show they are not in fact any smarter. Even job titles have experienced a sort of inflation, as employers use fancier, more prestigious sounding titles without any difference in pay than their normally named counterparts.

“A former German central banker, Karl Otto Pöhl, compared inflation to toothpaste: easy to squeeze out of the tube, almost impossible to put back in. The usual cure, monetary and fiscal tightening, will not work for panflation. Women will never squeeze back into their old clothes unless they reject size inflation. Instead, it is time for everybody to tighten belts (literally) and fight all sorts of inflationary flab.”

View this on WallStreetOasis here.


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