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Inflation may be rearing its ugly head once again; the numbers are up slightly. Yet in one sense, it never really has gone away. While the figures have not been large in recent years, the cumulative impact can still be devastating.

Reports on inflation released this week showed a rise - mostly blamed on higher retail food prices, in turn blamed on the drought - that would equal a 5.2 percent rate for the year. Ever since 1987, inflation has been running at a rate equal to about 4.4 percent a year.How much of that increase in food prices is really due to the drought and how much is merely an attempt by some producers to take advantage of drought publicity is unclear.

One analyst said that perhaps half the rise in supermarket food costs was due to the drought, while the other half was "open to question."

The pressures for a higher inflation rate appear to be building, but economists say that the slow rise of inflation really isn't bad and will finish the year at about 4.75 percent - certainly nothing like the 12 or 13 percent or more of a few years ago.

That may be satisfying in comparison, yet an inflation rate of 4 or 5 percent can hurt, too.

People on fixed incomes, retired persons for example, may not feel a serious pinch in a single year, but over a decade, even a modest yearly inflation rate could cut purchasing power in half.

Where is it written that prices, wages, and the cost of living must inexorably rise year after year?

And those who rush to raise prices without real justification - like trying to cash in on drought publicity - only hurt themselves, along with everybody else, in the long run.