The soaring cost of services is driven by a number of factors.
What will the future bring: fire (inflation) or ice (deflation)? The short answer: both, but in very different doses. Goods that are tradeable and exposed to technologically driven commodification will decline in price (deflation) while untradeableservices that are difficult to commoditize will increase in price (inflation), generating a self-reinforcing feedback loop of wage-price inflation.
Gordon Long and I discuss these trends in our latest program The Supply-Demand Services Problem (YouTube).
The big difference between goods that drop in price (TVs, etc.) and services that are exploding higher (healthcare, childcare, elderly care, higher education, local taxes and fees, etc.) is the relative size each occupies in the household budget: a new TV is a couple hundred bucks and a once-every-few-years purchase, while all the services cost thousands of dollars annually– or even tens of thousands of dollars.
A new TV or electronic gew-gaw is signal noise in the household budget while services consume the most of what’s left after paying for housing and transport.
A 10% decline in the cost of a new TV is $25, while a 10% increase in annual tuition and college fees is $2,500. Add in thousands more for childcare, elderly care, local taxes and fees and healthcare, and the deflationary impact of tradeable goods is trivial compared to the increases in untradeable services.
Not all goods are declining in sticker price. vehicles are rising sharply in price, a fact that’s erased by hedonic adjustments in official inflation (the new car is supposedly so much better than the previous model that the “price” actually declines-heh).
Then there’s the inexorable shrinkage of quantity and quality. The package that once held 16 ounces now contains 13.4 ounces, and the appliance that once lasted for years now lasts a few months as the quality of components is reduced.
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