November 1997

Inflation, Taxes, and the Durability of Capital

Darrel Cohen and Kevin Hassett


Auerbach (1979, 1981) has demonstrated that inflation can lead to large inter-asset distortions, with the negative effects of higher inflation unambiguously declining with asset life. We show that this is true only if depreciation is treated as geometric for tax purposes. When depreciation is straightline, higher inflation can have the opposite effect, discouraging investment in long-lived assets. Since our current system can be thought of as a mixture of straightline and geometric, the sign of the inter-asset distortion is indeterminate. We show that under current U.S. tax rules, the "straightline" and "geometric" effects approximately cancel for equipment, causing almost no inter-asset distortions. For structures, inflation clearly causes substitution into long-lived assets.

Full paper (102 KB Postscript)

Keywords: Inflation, user cost of capital, capital durability

PDF: Full Paper

Disclaimer: The economic research that is linked from this page represents the views of the authors and does not indicate concurrence either by other members of the Board's staff or by the Board of Governors. The economic research and their conclusions are often preliminary and are circulated to stimulate discussion and critical comment. The Board values having a staff that conducts research on a wide range of economic topics and that explores a diverse array of perspectives on those topics. The resulting conversations in academia, the economic policy community, and the broader public are important to sharpening our collective thinking.

Back to Top
Last Update: February 12, 2021