Beware the Money Illusion Coming to Destroy Your Wealth

By James Ricakrds

A money illusion sounds like something a prestidigitator performs by pulling $100 bills from a hat shown to be empty moments before. In fact, money illusion is a longstanding concept in economics that has enormous significance for you if you’re a saver, investor or entrepreneur.

Money illusion is a trick, but it is not one performed on stage. It is a ruse performed by central banks that can distort the economy and destroy your wealth.

The money illusion is a tendency of individuals to confuse real and nominal prices. It boils down to the fact that people ignore inflation when deciding if they are better off. Examples are everywhere.

Assume you are a building engineer working for a property management company making $100,000 per year. You get a 2% raise, so now you are making $102,000 per year. Most people would say they are better off after the raise. But if inflation is 3%, the $102,000 salary is worth only $98,940 in purchasing power relative to where you started.

You got a $2,000 raise in nominal terms but you suffered a $1,060 pay cut in real terms. Most people would say you’re better off because of the raise, but you’re actually worse off because you’ve lost purchasing power. The difference between your perception and reality is money illusion.

The impact of money illusion is not limited to wages and prices. It can apply to any cash flow including dividends and interest. It can apply to the asset prices of stocks and bonds. Any nominal increase has to be adjusted for inflation in order to see past the money illusion.

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