In the 1970s the prices of most things Americans buy more than doubled. Such a general increase in prices is called inflation. Prices of selected goods may increase for reasons unrelated to inflation: the price of fresh lettuce may rise because unseasonably heavy rainfall in California has ruined the lettuce crop, or the price of gasoline may rise if the oil-producing countries set a higher price for oil. During inflation, however, all prices tend to rise. Over the last 400 years there have been many periods of inflation. In the 16th century, when the Spaniards began bringing back gold and silver from the New World, prices in Western Europe moved upward as the supply of money increased. During the 19th century prices tended to go downward as food and raw materials became cheaper. After major wars such as the Napoleonic Wars and World Wars I and II, prices again moved upward. In the 1950s and '60s a so-called creeping inflation occurred, when the general price level in the United States and Western Europe rose by an average of 1 to 5 percent each year. In the 1970s inflation increased until it reached as much as 13 percent a year in the United States. Many countries have suffered from inflation more than has the United States. Israel had inflation of more than 100 percent a year in the early 1980s, meaning that the cost of living more than doubled every year. In Argentina inflation was greater than 400 percent in 1975 and averaged more than 100 percent each year from 1976 to 1982. The most remarkable inflation in modern times was the German hyperinflation of 1923, when people went to the store with wheelbarrows full of money to buy a few groceries. A similar hyperinflation occurred in Hungary after World War II. Inflation has been defined as "too much money chasing too few goods." As prices rise, wages and salaries also have a tendency to rise. More money in people's pockets causes prices to rise still higher so that consumers never quite...
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