Women’s coats and potatoes are getting way more expensive. TVs and computers are getting cheaper.

Surprise: inflation is still really, really low. The Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers rose only 1.5 percent over the last year, well below the 2.5 percent upper limit that the Federal Reserve has effectively set. Core inflation — that is, excluding food and energy, whose prices tend to be highly variable — rose 1.8 percent. But the picture gets less boring, if not less dispiriting, if you look at specific items. By looking at the detailed CPI numbers, and drilling down to the lowest level of data provided, you'll find that prices have risen the most in the past year in these 10 areas:

 

Sorry, coat-wearing women and fans of potatoes and tomatoes. It's been a tough year for you. Chicken and bacon aficionados are having a rough go of it, as well. Newspaper and magazine prices are increasing, but we trust you'll buy them, anyway. Or at least hope you do. Please buy them anyway.

So that's what's gotten more expensive. What's gotten cheaper?

Televisions and computers -- no surprise -- just keep getting cheaper. It's important to note here that the CPI does something called "hedonic quality adjustment," which heavily affects their measurements of TV prices. If the average price of a TV hasn't dropped any lower, but the quality of the average TV (as measured by definition, size, slimness, weight, speaker fidelity, etc.) has improved, then the hedonic quality adjustment process makes that show up as a price reduction in the CPI. Same thing for computers. Moore's law predicts that the number of transistors that can be cheaply placed on integrated circuits will double about every two years, and, so far, that's held up. But because the cost of placing the circuits doesn't increase, that amounts to a huge, regular reduction in the hedonic quality-adjusted price of computers.

But nerds and TV snobs aren't the only winners here. Brick Tamland and others who love lamps can now love lamps at a lower price. Photographers, and coffee fans (especially coffee fans who take it with sugar or Splenda), make out pretty well, too.

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Timothy B. Lee · September 17, 2013