The linkage system was very successful. In major economies around the world, consumers often feel the pinch of just 2-7% annual inflation. But Israelis, who had to deal with a much higher inflation rate, went about their business practically unaffected. For three and a half decades, their real income was protected by this index-linked mechanism. Furthermore, over this period the standard of living rose at an average rate of close to 4% annually.
However perfect, the linkage machine itself was fueling the fire of inflation at an increasing pace. As inflation evolved into hyperinflation, the price spiral was taking a toll on economic output. Dealing with daily linkage adjustments and their repercussions was draining the time and resources of households and businesses.
In July 1985, the government adopted the Economic Stabilization Policy, which called for interference in the economy to an extent that would be considered "reactionary" among economic theorists. A total freeze of prices of all goods and services was imposed and the linkage mechanism was suspended. Everything from price tags in shops and stores, charges for services, prices specified in contracts, wages and public budgets to foreign exchange rates, remained fixed at the exact nominal quotation on the day the policy was declared.
It worked. In 1985, inflation fell to 185% (less than half the rate in 1984). Within a few months, the authorities began to lift the price freeze on some items; in other cases it took almost a year. In 1986, inflation was down to just 19%.
The linkage system was reinstated as soon as the stabilization policy showed signs of success, although the Bank of Israel began to take stricter measures to supervise the monetary aspects of the economy.
Can linkage be automated so that it becomes seamless, and inflation transparent?
Can some method similar to Brazil's response to hyperinflation be used to fight the psychology of inflation?
People would still have and use the existing currency, the cruzeiro. But everything would be listed in URVs, the fake currency. Their wages would be listed in URVs. Taxes were in URVs. All prices were listed in URVs. And URVs were kept stable - what changed was how many cruzeiros each URV was worth.
Say, for example, that milk costs 1 URV. On a given day, 1 URV might be worth 10 cruzeiros. A month later, milk would still cost 1 URV. But that 1 URV might be worth 20 cruzeiros.
The idea was that people would start thinking in URVs - and stop expecting prices to always go up.
From Generating a Sharp Disinflation: Israel 1985, by Michael Bruno:
In the past two years it became evident that balance-of-payments and
foreign reserve difficulties may arise even when the current account
improves, due to problems associated with the capital account. In part, at
least, these problems stem from loss of public confidence in the government's
ability to control the economic system, leading to massive private
purchases of foreign currency and capital flight.
Unfortunately, the most common explanation of rising inflation due
to an increase in the government deficit (argument a) can at best account
for a rise in Israel's inflation rate in the early 1970's but not in
subsequent periods. The step-wise leaps in inflation from 30-40 percent in
1973-76 to nearly 500 percent annually in 1984-85 (point 851 in Figure la
refers to January-July 1985) occurred while the budget deficit, though
large, was more or less stable at 12-15% of GDP (see Table 2).
An alternative and somewhat complementary line of argument to that of
the inflation tax explains the step-wise nature of the inflationary process
in terms of price level shocks (which account for the jumps) coupled
with full monetary accommodation (which explains why a price level shock
translates into a jump in the rate of inflation). The price shocks may be
entirely exogenous (e.g. oil and raw material price increases in 1973 and
1979 or the shock introduced with the October 1977 reform) or may be
induced by balance of payments difficulties (leading to devaluations and
price increasing fiscal measures such as subsidy cuts, as in 1974, 1983,
Why, under this view, has inflation almost always only gone up and not
down ? one reason may be that positive and negative price shocks are not
symmetric in their effects on the dynamics of inflation. When the general
thrust of fiscal and monetary policy is expansionary and there is a temp-
orary unexpected downward shift in the inflation rate expectations will
not be revised downward. The effect of such asymmetries is to make a
sequence of positive and negative shocks of zero mean impart an upward
thrust to the inflation rate.
So, inflation is psychological to a large degree. It seems there are wild expectations of inflation that fuel themselves. The fix for inflation is to somehow get people to stop expecting inflation; I think the actual budget deficit amounts don't really matter. It's the perceived effects of deficits in people's minds. Change those prejudices and you can deal with inflation without having to reduce government spending.