Inflation explained to a 10 year-old

Inflation Is… A Letter to a Ten-Year-Old


Well, let’s pretend that you’re not happy with the allowance that your parents give you. You don’t have enough money to buy all the bubble-gum, hamburgers, comics or toys that you want. Let’s also suppose that you had a Magic Machine that could print all the dollars you wanted. (This is called “counterfeiting” and people go to jail for doing this. But just pretend that you could print as much money as you’d like.) Since you would have all the dollars from this Magic Machine you could spend as much as you like and would not have to worry about asking your family for a bigger allowance. When you’re on a limited allowance you have to watch your pennies pretty carefully. But if you had a Magic Machine, you could be less careful with your dollars. You wouldn’t have to choose between a new book and a pad of drawing paper. You could buy both and even more! This would be fine and dandy for a time.

But suppose your friends all had these Magic Machines or that you had so many dollars that you gave a lot of them to your friends. Well, if enough of you had loads of money to spend at the local candy store pretty soon something interesting would happen. The candy store owner has only a certain amount of bubblegum to sell. But suddenly, with you and other “rich” kids, there’s a big demand for bubblegum! If he had only 5 packages of gum for sale and there were ten of you who wanted to buy it, any one of you might be willing to pay $10.00 or more for one package of gum. (Remember that back when you had only your allowance, you’d never pay that much for a little pack of gum!) Because of the bigger demand, the owner of the candy store might decide to ask a higher price for the gum — and you will pay it because each of your dollars has lost some of its value. You may seem “rich” but your money has lost a lot of its buying power because there are others who also have lots of money and are “rich.”

In very simple terms, this is what our government has done. Through many decisions made by the officials in the government, there has been an increase in the number of dollars printed. There are just many more dollars—paper dollars that don’t buy as much as the old dollars did. (You’ve probably heard adults say, “Gee, the dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to.”)

If it can be explained that simply to a ten year-old, why can’t elected officials understand it?

Of course, given the fact that elected officials do worse on a civic literacy exam than the average citizen, maybe that’s not so surprising.