“When I was your age, I used to go to the movies for a dime. I’d get a big bag of candy for a nickel.”
I still remember my father saying those words as I headed off to the movies in the 1970s when the afternoon matinees cost $1.75 per ticket, more than 10 times what my father had paid 35 years earlier. I remember because my father said that every time I went to the movies for my entire childhood and all my teenage years. I doubt I’m alone on this.
There isn’t an American alive for whom steadily rising prices haven’t been a fact of life for all his or her life. Most employed Americans risk their savings in the stock market, through 401ks or other tax-deferred investments, because everyone knows merely stockpiling cash is useless. It will lose all its value because of inflation.
Just imagine if it were the other way around. Imagine if you could simply put your cash savings in the bank, and without even considering any interest it would earn, see it gain value over time. Imagine if your father or grandfather repeatedly told you that something you were purchasing today used to cost him a lot more when he was your age.
Well, for America’s first full century, that was exactly how it was. Prices fluctuated year to year, but over the course of the 19th century, prices fell dramatically. A basket of goods that cost $100 in 1800 cost less than $50 in 1900. That means one could buy twice as much with the same amount of dollars. Average Americans could simply stockpile dollars over the course of their working lives and realize a return on their investment in the form of dollar appreciation.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.