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The Price of a Pizza

To see why, begin by recalling that the inflation rate is defined as the percentage change in the price level. This means that the price level next year is equal to the price this year multiplied by (1 + inflation rate). [3] Now imagine that two individuals, Bert and Ernie, want to write a credit contract. Bert wants to borrow some money to buy a pizza. The price of a pizza this year is $10, so Ernie lends Bert $10, and they agree on a nominal interest rate for this credit arrangement. This means that next year he will repay $10 × (1 + nominal interest rate). We could also imagine that Bert and Ernie decide to write a different kind of contract to guarantee a return in terms of pizzas. Because this rate of return is specified in terms of goods rather than money, it is a real interest rate. Ernie agrees to give Bert (enough dollars to buy) 1 pizza this year in return for being repaid (enough dollars to buy) (1 + real interest rate) pizzas next year. Ernie lends Bert $10 as before (the equivalent of 1 pizza). To repay this loan next year, Bert must give Ernie enough money to buy (1 + real interest rate) pizzas. The price of a pizza has increased to $10 × (1 + inflation rate), so Bert must give Ernie $10 × (1 + real interest rate) × (1 + inflation rate). If you have worked through this chapter carefully, you probably know what is coming next. Because of arbitrage, we know that these two contracts must be equivalent: 1 + nominal interest rate = (1 + real interest rate) × (1 + inflation rate). As an approximation, this equation implies that the [4] nominal interest rate ≈ real interest rate + inflation rate. This relationship is called the Fisher equation. Toolkit: Section 16.5 “Correcting for Inflation” Nominal interest rates and real interest rates are related by the Fisher equation. To convert from nominal interest rates to real interest rates, we use the following formula: real interest rate ≈ nominal interest rate − inflation rate. If you want to know more about the Fisher equation, you can look in the toolkit. For example, if a loan has a 12 percent interest rate and the inflation rate is 8 percent, then the real return on that loan is 4 percent. Since the nominal interest rate and the inflation rate are easily observed by most of us, we can use the Fisher equation to calculate the real rate of interest. We use the Fisher equation whenever we see a nominal interest rate and wish to convert it to a real interest rate. Just as it is the real exchange rate that matters for people trading goods and assets between countries, so it is the real interest rate that ultimately matters to borrowers and lenders in the economy. In macroeconomics, we often look at the credit market for the entire economy, where savings and investment are matched in the economy as a whole. The price in this market is the real interest rate.

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