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What if we priced food in gold?

Imagine paying for food not in dollars, but in gold. How different would the world be? The graph above is an attempt to depict the difference it would make to food prices. Taking the subcategory “food and beverages” in the consumer price index, we compare the price in dollars (in blue) with the price in gold (in red). The graph shows month-to-month percentage price changes. The price in gold is calculated by dividing the price index by the price of gold in dollars.

The graph makes very apparent that, if we priced food in gold,┬áthere would be wild fluctuations in those food prices. Consider the units on the vertical axis: Prices change several percent in either direction from one month to the next. But would price fluctuations really be that wild? Probably not, as it’s costly for sellers to change prices (“menu costs”) and they would make those changes less frequently than the graph shows. Yet, the essential premise remains: The Fed has a mandate to keep prices (in dollars) stable, which it can do by managing the money supply. Such stability is not possible with the gold supply. It is thus unavoidable that gold-based prices would fluctuate more.

How this graph was created: Find “consumption price index, food and beverages” and graph it. Add the same series to the graph, then add “gold price,” making sure to check “modify existing series 2.” For series 1, select units “percent change.” For series 2, apply formula “a/b” and transformation “percent change.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann

View on FRED, series used in this post: CPIFABSL, GOLDPMGBD228NLBM

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