When America Had a Moral Panic Over Inflation

 When America Had a Moral Panic Over Inflation

Photo: Mao/AP/Shutterstock/Mao/AP/Shutterstock

The numbers we use to measure economic health are funny things. We treat them like windows onto objective reality, but they are actually very human artifacts. Encoded within them are hidden moral and political assumptions about how the world is supposed to work — assumptions that should always be ripe for challenge.

The most famous illustration came from Robert F. Kennedy, speaking in 1968 about the number we call the “gross national product.” We presume that when it is bigger, America is better. But as Kennedy pointed out, it also counts “air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage,” “special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them,” “the destruction of…

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