Inflation: Definition, Calculation, Types, Cause & Effects
Inflation refers to a sustained rise in the general price level of goods and services in an economy over a period of time. Inflation It is measured as an annual percentage increase using a price index. The most widely used inflation measures are the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which tracks consumer goods prices and the Wholesale Price Index (WPI), which tracks prices of goods in bulk. Inflation is calculated using these indices by comparing price levels over time.
Demand-pull inflation occurs due to excessive aggregate demand. Cost-push inflation happens due to increases in production costs and supply constraints. Built-in inflation is influenced by inflation expectations. Other types are recessionary, stagflation and hyperinflation based on rate and economic conditions. Inflation is caused by factors such as an increase in money supply, higher aggregate demand, rise in production costs, wage-price spiral, supply constraints, and commodity price rises.
Inflation has mixed effects on the economy. While it pushes profits higher during recovery, it reduces consumers’ purchasing power over time if not controlled. High inflation causes uncertainty and hurts business investment and international trade. It also redistributes wealth in the economy. Therefore, central banks monitor inflation closely and aim for low and stable rates to support balanced economic growth.
What is inflation?
Inflation is defined as a general increase in prices and a fall in the purchasing value of money. Each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services when the general price level rises. Inflation is usually measured as an annual percentage increase. A low and stable inflation rate is considered healthy for an economy, but high and volatile rates damage it.
An increase in the money supply is a primary cause of inflation. Each individual dollar or unit of currency is worth less as the overall money supply increases when a central bank prints more money. This means more money is chasing the same amount of goods and services. Demand-pull inflation occurs when aggregate demand for goods and services increases faster than the economy’s ability to supply them. This creates excess demand that pushes prices higher. Cost-push inflation refers to increases in the prices of key production inputs like wages, raw materials or energy. They raise their selling prices to protect profit margins, which feed through the economy as higher consumer prices when businesses face higher costs.
Inflation is also caused by supply constraints in the real economy. Natural disasters, wars or pandemics constrain production capacity and disrupt supply chains. This places upward pressure on prices. Expectations of future inflation become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They increase wages and prices preemptively to hedge against future inflation if consumers and businesses believe prices will increase. This perception creates real inflationary pressures. Government policies like excessive spending, deficits and money creation also fuel demand-pull inflation over the long run. Whenever more money circulates chasing the same goods, the result is higher overall prices.
There are negative effects of high and unstable inflation. It reduces the real purchasing power of money over time as prices increase at a faster rate than wages. This means consumers buy fewer goods and services with the same amount of money. High inflation causes uncertainty for businesses as they find it hard to estimate future costs and sales prices. This discourages long-term investment and planning. Predictable inflation is preferable to unpredictable fluctuations. Savers also suffer during high inflation as the real value of savings in cash diminishes rapidly. Those on fixed incomes, like retirees, experience a loss of purchasing power.
High inflation also discourages foreign investment as currency values become unstable. It undermines the effectiveness of monetary policy as interest rates need to be kept very high just to stabilize the currency, restricting economic growth. This damages confidence and trust in the entire financial system. Rampant inflation even leads to hyperinflation, a situation where prices increase at an extremely rapid pace, and the currency breaks down completely, ruining the economy. Overall, inflation is harmful when it rises significantly above stable, low and predictable levels.
Central banks are usually responsible for managing inflation through monetary policy tools like adjusting interest rates and money supply growth. Higher interest rates reduce the money supply as borrowing becomes costlier, which cools demand-pull inflation pressures. They also use open market operations to buy or sell government bonds, raising or lowering the amount of money circulating in the real economy. By influencing demand, monetary policy aims to stabilize inflation around a targeted level. Besides monetary tools, governments have some ability to influence cost pressures through fiscal policies like controlling budget deficits, setting public spending priorities, and reducing barriers to competition.
What is the history behind inflation?
One of the earliest documented cases of inflation occurred in 330 BCE in Alexander the Great’s vast empire. As Alexander expanded his territories by conquering Persian lands, his armies gained massive amounts of gold and silver loot. This influx of precious metals dramatically increased the money supply in circulation. However, the production and supply of goods and services did not rise at the same pace. With more money available chasing similar levels of economic output, the natural result was rising prices across Alexander’s domains. This demonstrated an important lesson – rapid expansions in the quantity of currency fuel higher inflation.
The Roman Empire experienced inflation at various points due to financial pressures on the treasury. In the early years under Nero’s rule from 54 CE, Roman silver coins contained over 90% real silver content. However, as the costs of maintaining the empire grew through wars and construction projects, budgets faced large shortfalls. To raise more funds, successive emperors steadily diluted the silver in coins with base metals like copper. By the 270s CE, Roman currency held barely any silver at all.
As money became less valuable, the public demanded more coins to purchase equivalent items. This drove pervasive inflation throughout the Roman economy. During the Crisis of the Third Century from 235-284 CE, hyperinflation severely eroded the purchasing power of Roman money. Degrading coins to cover deficits introduced Romans to how inflating the currency could disguise fiscal issues, though it penalized citizens.
Paper money was introduced in China during the Song dynasty between 960 and 1279 CE as an early form of fiat currency not backed by precious metals. After the Mongols established the Yuan dynasty from 1271-1368 CE, their many costly conflicts led the government to print large sums of paper notes. This excessive money creation caused high inflation that hurt the economy. To prevent a recurrence, the following Ming dynasty rejected paper currency altogether from 1368-1644 CE and relied solely on copper coins instead. Their population and output grew substantially during this stable-price period.
In 1324 CE, the West African king Mansa Musa’s hajj pilgrimage to Mecca passed through Cairo, Egypt. His entourage of thousands, bearing almost 100 camels laden with gold, spent lavishly along the route. So much currency entered the economy that gold’s value fell for over a decade in Egypt. Contemporary Arab historians remarked how the kingdom of Mali under Mansa Musa had depressed the price of gold with the gold flooding into Egypt from his historic trip. This showed how significant introductions of new money from outside a region could stimulate prolonged inflation.
In Europe during the late 15th to mid-17th centuries, a substantial price inflation trend known as the ‘price revolution’ occurred. Scholars generally attribute this to enormous imports of gold and silver mines in the Americas, which Spain then distributed throughout other European states as payments and in wars. The influx of precious metals, after centuries of cash shortages, boosted the overall European money supply, and prices rose steadily across the continent over 150 years. European populations had also recovered from the Black Death by this time, increasing demand which compounded the inflationary effects of the New World metal imports flooding the economy.
After 1700 CE, Europe saw more intermittent cycles of rising and falling prices until the global Great Depression of the 1930s precipitated a bout of deflation. Central banks were established to better manage monetary policy using tools like interest rates. However, high ‘double-digit’ inflation reemerged briefly in most industrial nations during the oil shocks and economic turmoil of the 1970s. Countries like Weimar Germany, Nationalist China, 1970s-80s Israel, and modern Zimbabwe have all endured hyperinflation catastrophes when monetary authorities lost control of the currency’s value. Maintaining low, stable inflation requires prudent fiscal responsibility and oversight of the money supply by a nation’s central monetary authority.
How is inflation measured?
Inflation is measured in India using several indices compiled and published monthly by the National Statistical Office (NSO) under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. The most prominent among them is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the changes in retail prices of a fixed basket of goods and services that are frequently purchased by average households. CPI is released every month and covers over 1,200 towns across India.
Under CPI, the basket includes food items, beverages, fuel and light, housing, clothing, footwear, etc., grouped into three broad categories – food and beverages, pan, tobacco and intoxicants, and all items. The year 2010 is taken as the base year for calculating CPI. Another key inflation gauge is the Wholesale Price Index (WPI), which tracks the prices of commodities at the first point of sale. WPI comprises around 676 commodities, including primary articles, fuel and power, and manufactured products. These well-established indices help the government and Reserve Bank of India formulate monetary and fiscal policies as per the prevailing inflation situation.
What is the formula for measuring inflation?
The formula for calculating CPI is based on the Laspeyres formula. CPI is calculated by dividing the current cost of the same basket of goods and services by the cost of the same basket of goods and services in the base period. This gives what is known as the price index, which is then annualized to arrive at the inflation rate. The cost of the basket in the current period and the base period takes into account price changes of individual goods and services weighted by their estimated average consumption by household expenditure.
The weights used are based on data from the Household Consumption Expenditure Survey conducted by the NSO. Index numbers are calculated for different city groups, and then a consolidated nationwide CPI is computed by assigning suitable weights to individual indices. The nationwide CPI is released monthly, and 2010 is taken as the base year for India, with an index value of 100.0. This makes CPI a weighted composite index that shows price changes over time for a fixed basket of goods and services. Here is a simple example of how inflation is calculated using CPI in India.
Let’s take a simple example with a basket containing only two items – rice and wheat.
In the base year 2010
1 kg rice cost Rs. 30
1 kg wheat cost Rs. 20
The total cost of the basket in 2010 = 1 kg rice (Rs. 30) + 1 kg wheat (Rs. 20) = Rs. 50
CPI base period (2010) index = 100
Now, in the current year 2023,
1 kg rice now costs Rs. 40
1 kg wheat now costs Rs. 25
Total cost of basket in 2023 = 1 kg rice (Rs. 40) + 1 kg wheat (Rs. 25) = Rs. 65
To calculate the CPI index
CPI index = (Current cost of basket / Base period cost of basket) x 100
= (Rs. 65 / Rs. 50) x 100
Rate of inflation = (Current CPI – Base CPI) x 100 / Base CPI
= (130 – 100) x 100 / 100
So, with a 30% rise in the CPI index from 2010 to 2023, the rate of inflation works out to 30% according to this simple example using just two goods in the consumer price basket.
What are the main causes of inflation?
The main causes of inflation are demand-pull inflation and cost-push inflation. Demand-pull inflation occurs when aggregate demand for goods and services increases in the economy due to factors like a rise in income, bank credit growth, and government spending without a corresponding increase in aggregate supply. This pulls up prices as demand outstrips supply. Cost-push inflation is caused by a rise in prices of key inputs like crude oil, agricultural commodities and other raw materials, which pushes up production costs for businesses.
Other factors leading to increased costs include a rise in wages, higher transport charges, appreciation of currency and indirect taxes. During times of strong economic growth, demand for inputs picks up rapidly, creating supply constraints and shortages, which feed into higher costs. Monetary factors like excess money supply and liquidity also fuel demand-pull inflation by increasing the money in circulation. Geopolitical tensions, global trade wars and supply chain disruptions can affect commodity prices and disrupt domestic supply chains, acting as sources of cost-push inflation. Together, these factors put upward pressure on prices across the economy over time.
What are the effects of inflation?
High inflation erodes the purchasing power of currency over time for individuals and households. As prices rise faster than nominal wages or fixed incomes, real disposable incomes and living standards fall. This reduces consumer confidence and spending power. Savers also face declines in the real value of their savings as interest rates typically do not compensate for high inflation. Businesses face greater uncertainty when pricing goods and services in a high-inflation environment.
It is difficult to distinguish between temporary and permanent price changes, undermining efficient market signals. High inflation discourages long-term investments and plant and equipment upgrades that boost productivity as returns become difficult to forecast. It disrupts production planning and financial capital budgeting. For governments, inflation cuts the real value of tax revenues that are calculated based on nominal values. This often leads to higher budget deficits. Interest payments on outstanding public debt also increase substantially if rates are not able to keep up with rising prices. High inflation is said to be a hidden tax as it redistributes wealth from creditors to debtors. It hampers fiscal responsibility and policy credibility over time.
Mild and stable inflation in the 2-3% range on average is mostly beneficial for advanced economies. It supports full employment by encouraging firms and consumers to spend rather than save excess cash balances. Continuous activity prevents economic stagnation. Indexed bonds and contracts facilitate stable borrowing and lending. Low positive inflation keeps the real purchasing power of money and nominal wages in balance. It provides regular boosts to aggregate demand without unduly influencing financing environment stability.
Wage-price spirals that drive higher inflation are less likely to take hold under these conditions. International trade is lubricated through predictable gradual currency depreciation inherent in low inflation. Domestic goods maintain price competitiveness without sudden disruptions. Export sectors stay propped up by ongoing improvements in cost structures. Staple commodity imports that influence domestic production costs also become cheaper over time.
What are the different types of inflation?
There are seven main types of inflation. Demand-pull inflation, cost-push inflation, open inflation, repressed inflation, hyperinflation, creeping inflation, true inflation, and inflation.
Demand-pull inflation occurs when strong aggregate demand in the economy outpaces the productive capacity to supply goods and services. This imbalance causes inflation as increased spending bids up prices across the board. The key driver of demand-pull inflation is a rise in aggregate demand. This happens due to monetary factors like lower interest rates fueling more bank lending, expansionary fiscal policies increasing government spending, or higher disposable incomes boosting consumer outlays. Demand also increases if expectations of future inflation embed higher prices into wages and contracts preemptively.
Central banks use tools like open market operations and interest rate adjustments to contain excessive growth in the money supply, income or credit, driving demand-pull inflation. They aim to guide spending in line with the productive limits of the real economy to maintain price stability over the long run. Precise policy calibration is needed based on diagnosed inflation type and source. Aggregate demand management prevents demand from outstripping potential output while still facilitating full employment. This attenuates the inflationary cycle at its core source – an imbalance between spending and production in the overall economy.
2. Cost-push inflation
Cost-push inflation occurs when rising production costs, rather than demand, cause a general increase in a country’s price level. Higher costs are passed through the supply chain as producers attempt to maintain profit margins. Costs surge due to factors like wage hikes exceeding productivity gains in a tight labour market, increased commodity prices on world markets, imposition of inflationary taxes, or supply disruptions. These internal factors directly impact the cost structure of firms.
The inflation rate formula captures this as.
Inflation = (Actual Aggregate Supply – Potential Aggregate Supply)/Potential Aggregate Supply x 100
π = ((AS2 – Yp)/Yp) x 100
Unlike demand-pull inflation, cost increases are initially absorbed by profit declines instead of price hikes. But over time, firms restore margins through price adjustments that disseminate rising costs economy-wide. Monetary policy tools like interest rate manoeuvres are less effective against cost factors. Coordinated wage guidance and social dialogue help align pay with productivity. Strategic reserves, import tariffs or production subsidies also dampen key input price volatility.
3. Open Inflation
Open inflation describes a situation where general price rises are readily visible and measurable in an economy. It contrasts with repressed or hidden inflation, where price increases are suppressed through government controls. In open inflation, market mechanisms freely determine price adjustments as aggregate demand and supply interact. There are no artificial constraints imposed by price ceilings, subsidies or rationing schemes. This allows inflation rates to be accurately tracked and monitored over time. Statistically, open inflation is quantified using published consumer and producer price indices that survey actual prices paid for representative baskets of consumer goods and industrial products. Formulas compare these indices to base periods:
Consumer Price Index: CPI = Current CPI / Base Period CPI x 100
Producer Price Index: PPI = Current PPI / Base Period PPI x 100
The inflation rate is 5% if the CPI rises from 100 to 105 over a year. Openness means economic agents fully perceive this erosion of purchasing power.
In open inflation, price signalling adjusts behaviour, and inflation premiums get priced into contracts. Central banks deliberately target mild open inflation that does not unexpectedly distort markets or planning. By contrast, repressed inflation delays necessary price flexibility. Over time, imbalances reemerge strongly once restraints dissolve, with destabilizing consequences. Greater transparency supports macroeconomic stewardship focused on stability rather than temporary suppressions masking true pressures.
4. Repressed inflation
Repressed inflation occurs when governments implement mechanisms to artificially constrain price rises and hide the true extent of inflationary pressures building in an economy. Rather than allowing market forces to freely determine equilibrium prices, controls are put in place to repress upward adjustments. Tools used include price ceilings that outlaw price hikes beyond an allowed limit. Subsidies are also offered to producers and consumers to reduce the effective price paid below market rates. Rationing schemes restrict quantities available for sale to balance supply and demand at controlled prices.
Over time, shortages and imbalances intensify rather than signals pushing behaviour adjustment. Black markets emerge, trading goods above legal prices. Distortions worsen until controls are lifted, and a rapid price spike occurs as shortages clear. Formulas will not precisely quantify building pressures under repression. Short-term political gains come at the cost of larger eventual disruptions. It falsely signals all is well while the real value of currency stealthily erodes, harming confidence. Once lifted, severe bouts of stagflation often emerge as both inflation and recession occur jointly. Policy credibility suffers, and plans made under repression prove wildly inaccurate.
Hyperinflation represents an extreme loss of a currency’s purchasing power where monthly inflation rates exceed 50%. It spirals out of control as the population loses all faith in the currency. A simple definition views hyperinflation as a situation where monthly inflation is above 50% due to rapid depreciation of currency value. More technical criteria also factor in how exchange rates change with domestic prices over three months.
The inflation formula no longer represents a sustainable equilibrium.
Inflation = ((Actual CPI – Expected CPI)/Expected CPI) x 100
Expectations become unhinged as inflation feeds rapidly on itself. The velocity of money approaches infinity as holders rush to spend notes before they lose value. Causes often involve massive increases in money supply for non-productive purposes like financing budget deficits during wars or social upheaval. This overwhelms the economy with the paper tender of no intrinsic worth. Drastic steps like currency substitution or dollarization under a more stable monetary authority become necessary. Controls are useless once hyperinflation dynamics take hold. Sustainable recovery demands strict fiscal and monetary discipline.
Lessons show maintaining long-term confidence depends on stable macroeconomic fundamentals and prudent financial management, even during crises. Hyperinflation scars societies for decades and must be averted through calibrated preemptive policies well before the 50% monthly tipping point. Its disruptions crush the fabric of commerce.
6. Creeping inflation
Creeping inflation refers to a persistent low-level annual rise in the overall price level, usually below 5%. On its own, it seems harmless, but if not addressed, it significantly erodes people’s purchasing power over extended periods. Unlike more abrupt spikes, creeping inflation proceeds gradually and passes under the radar. But it still redistributes wealth over time from creditors to debtors as the real value of cash balances and fixed incomes deteriorates steadily.
Statisticians measure creeping inflation using annual inflation rates calculated from Consumer Price Index (CPI) data.
CPI in year 1 = 100
CPI in year 2 = 102
Annual inflation rate = (CPI year 2 – CPI year 1)/ CPI year 1 x 100 = 2%
Creeping rates compound to substantially reduce standards of living if not addressed. Over a decade, total inflation could reach 20-30% as the 2% understates cumulative effects. While hard to detect initially, it encourages speculative activities like property investment that bid up assets without productivity gains. Wage-price spirals also incubate. Monetary policies gradually dialling back money growth help anchor stable expectations. Fiscal discipline likewise reassures markets. Early vigilance against creeping inflation prevents its stealth erosion of well-being and structural economic distortions over the long run.
7. True inflation
True inflation refers to a sustained general price increase occurring when an economy reaches full employment of all available labour and capital resources. At this point, any additional spending only bids up prices, not expand real output. Classical economists viewed true inflation as only possible beyond full capacity. Beforehand, temporary demand or cost increases just speed up previous price level trends without fundamentally altering them.
With supply fixed and demand rising, prices must rise to rebalance the equation. No potential output buffer exists to absorb spending increases through higher quantities. This scenario rarely occurs in reality as markets rarely run at absolute full capacity. But observing inflation dynamics aids policy – temporary spikes fade naturally while consistent tendencies warrant action before true inflation embeds. Early vigilance safeguards stable expectations that support investment, saving behaviour, and risk-taking, which are vital to growth. As potential output frontiers expand endogenously, inflation thresholds shift outward, keeping stability within broader margins conducive to maintaining full information efficiency in pricing.
8. Semi inflation
Semi-inflation describes a situation where some inflationary pressures emerge even before an economy reaches full employment. This happens when certain sectors face capacity constraints that limit their ability to expand output further. The inflation formula incorporates the role of both demand and constrained supply:
Inflation = (Change in AD – Change in Constrained AS) / Existing Aggregate Supply
Common bottlenecks include shortages of skilled labour, infrastructure gaps, or peaks in commodity markets that feed into production. While overall unemployment exists, these constraints leave the economy vulnerable to cost pressures. Signs include rising wages in constrained industries, materials price surges, or weakening exchange rates from export slowdowns. Demand growth accentuates these constraint effects before full capacity is reached across the board.
Early policy restraint contains subsequent demand-pull impacts. Fiscal efforts to eliminate constraints via reskilling, research or strategic reserves also support stability. By recognizing semi-inflation sources, policymakers gain the flexibility to fine-tune responses. Reliance on headline figures could neglect valid signs of tightness emerging not from overall but localized imbalances warranting pre-emptive remedy. This expands the inflation-targeting policy toolkit.
How do we control inflation?
Monetary authorities like central banks employ policy tools to maintain price stability and control excess inflationary pressures. A prominent strategy is inflation targeting, where interest rates are adjusted to guide consumer price changes towards an official target level, usually 2-3%. By raising interest rates, central banks reduce aggregate demand in the economy. Higher rates discourage borrowing for big-ticket items like homes or cars. They also incentivize saving and investing rather than spending. As demand subsides, upward price pressures are attenuated.
Lower rates stimulate demand by promoting bank lending, investment, and consumption. This boosts total spending and acts as an anti-deflationary buffer if needed. Rate adjustments navigate business cycles to contain inflationary or disinflationary gaps. Previously, fixed exchange rates were relied on, tying currencies to gold or each other. This outsourced domestic monetary control but proved inflexible. Gold standards also linked inflation mechanically to volatile mineral mining rather than strategic policy setting.
Wage and price freezes were tried but tended to introduce inefficiencies if enforced long-term. They treat inflation symptoms rather than underlying demand-supply imbalances better addressed through independent central bank decision-making.
What are the advantages of inflation?
The plausible advantages of inflation are given below.
- Stimulates spending and borrowing. Mild inflation encourages consumers and businesses to spend or invest now rather than save. This helps drive overall economic activity and growth.
- Helps manage debt levels. As prices rise over time, the real value and cost of debt decreases. Borrowers have an easier time repaying loans. This boosts household finances and encourages more lending in the economy.
- Lubricates labour market adjustments. Wage increases tend to happen more smoothly in slow, moderate inflation environments. Workers are less resistant to taking pay cuts in a downturn if general price rises are also low. This supports full employment.
- Discourages holding of cash. Low positive inflation discourages storing wealth as cash outside the banking system. It encourages the use of savings deposits and capital market instruments, which in turn funds productive investments that create jobs.
- International competitiveness. Steady underlying inflation means export goods prices rise gradually, so competitiveness is maintained. Sharp deflation could prove damaging. Prices and costs remain flexible to adapt.
- Supports monetary policy. Targeting modest inflation gives central banks more policy space and tools. Interest rates maintain positive real value, enabling cuts during recessions without hitting the zero lower bound problem.
- Supports fiscal policy. Governments find it easier to handle debt loads that shrink slowly in real value terms at low, consistent inflation. Moderate rises also sustain revenue streams, maintaining spending capacity.
However, policies must ensure inflation stays moderate and predictable for these benefits to materialize without excessive risks or disruptions. Spiralling inflation triggers its own negative dynamics and economic costs as expectations become unanchored.
What are the disadvantages of inflation?
The key disadvantages stem from inflation’s effects on purchasing power, financial planning, market signals, policy tools, and international trade. It introduces macroeconomic instability over the long run through channels such as erosion of cash value, wealth transfers, and incentives for speculation over production.
- Erodes purchasing power of cash balances over time. As inflation increases cumulatively, the real value of money people save diminishes. This makes planning more difficult.
- Imposes costs on creditors. Lenders risk loans being repaid with cheaper dollars. High inflation transfers wealth from savers to borrowers unexpectedly.
- Distorts resource allocation. Significant inflation encourages speculation in assets like property that often rise faster than incomes. This diverts capital away from productive investments.
- Introduces uncertainty. Unpredictable inflation variations make forecasting prices, costs and viability of long-term projects challenging. This undermines efficient market signals.
- Harms international competitiveness. Rapid inflation causes exports to become unaffordable abroad if trading partners’ currencies retain value better.
- Encourages wage-price spirals if inflation becomes embedded. Faster price hikes demand higher wages, which then feed back into additional inflationary pressures.
- Undermines fiscal discipline. High inflation masks large budget deficits that should attract higher risk premiums and interest costs in bond markets.
- Poses challenges for monetary policy. As inflation rises sharply, it becomes difficult for central banks to decisively counter the trends through interest rates alone.
Inflation at all above-target levels or accelerating unpredictably introduces macroeconomic instability that dampens growth potential over the longer term through these disruption channels.
How does inflation affect interest rates?
Nominal interest rates typically rise as well when inflation is rising. This occurs through two main channels. First, lenders factor expected inflation into rates to offset the erosion of purchasing power over the loan period. Higher anticipated price increases mean charging a risk premium to maintain real post-inflation returns. Second, central banks raise policy rates to curb excess demand, driving inflation higher.
Rate hikes cool spending and aggregate demand pressures in the economy. As inflation expectations stabilize, nominal rates also fall in line. Higher inflation also raises the breakeven inflation rate, which is the difference between nominal and real yields on inflation-indexed bonds. This measures the compensation investors demand for taking on inflation risk. As prices rise more, breakeven rates must likewise increase to adequately hedge portfolios.
During periods of low inflation, nominal interest rates fall to align with stable or declining expectations. With prices steady, lenders accept lower returns, while borrowers benefit from increased accessibility of cheap funding. Real interest rates are still positive if inflation falls faster than nominal cuts. In deflationary conditions, rates even become negative in nominal terms. This occurs when central banks stimulate demand, yet disinflation persists. Negative rates aim to incentivize businesses and households to invest rather than hoard cash, losing value in real terms.
How Does Consumer Demand Affect Inflation?
Strong consumer demand occurs when households feel confident and willing to purchase more goods and services. This is due to factors like rising incomes, low unemployment boosting job security, growth in wealth from asset price gains, or simply optimistic views about the future. Demand for products rises across the board from necessities to luxuries when consumers spend more freely.
Firms face stronger sales and struggle to keep up supply initially. As demand outstrips available supply, companies are able to charge higher prices without losing many customers. As some companies experience inflationary pressures, they pass on higher costs to consumers in the form of price increases. This sparks a chain reaction where numerous suppliers and retailers similarly raise prices to maintain profit margins against the backdrop of strong demand.
Is inflation good or bad for the economy?
The impact of inflation on the economy depends on its rate and predictability. Both moderate inflation and deflation are damaging in their own ways. Generally, low and stable inflation is deemed optimal for long-run economic prosperity. Low inflation is regarded as good as it spurs spending and investment. Consumers are encouraged to buy today rather than save due to currency depreciation.
Borrowing also becomes more affordable in real terms. Workers accept lower nominal wage cuts when needed. However, high inflation introduces distortions. It transfers real resources from savers to borrowers unexpectedly through negative interest rates. Prices no longer accurately signal scarcities. Investment flows to speculative assets rather than productivity. Planning becomes difficult with unstable values.
How do policymakers respond to inflation?
Monetary and fiscal policy tools are the main leveraged by governments and central banks to respond to changing inflationary conditions. Their objective is typically to maintain price stability conducive to long-run economic prosperity. Central banks employ contractionary monetary policy if inflation rises above target levels, indicating overheating demand pressures.
The most direct method is raising interest rates to slow borrowing and make savings more attractive. Higher rates curb private sector spending and dampen the upward price momentum. Rate hikes are incremental at first to gauge impact, but aggressive action is taken if inflation fails to stabilize. Central banks also increase reserve requirements commercial banks must hold, draining available liquidity from the system.
Open market sales of bonds contract the money supply. Fiscal policy is supplemented by reining in budget deficits or implementing austerity that reduces pump-priming impacts. Tax increases or cuts in transfer payments similarly cool demand. Governments also pause plans for new spending initiatives that overheat the economy.
What is the difference between inflation and deflation?
Inflation and deflation represent opposite changes in the overall level of prices in an economy. Inflation refers to a sustained rise in the general price level, while deflation is a sustained fall in prices. Inflation occurs when aggregate demand grows faster than the economy’s productive potential, resulting in excess spending that bids up prices as suppliers struggle to keep up with demand. Companies raise prices to maintain profit margins, fueling a self-perpetuating cycle.
Periods of high and unpredictable inflation hurt business planning as the future value of money becomes unclear. It also transfers real wealth from savers to borrowers through declining interest rates in real terms. Left unchecked, inflation risks spiralling out of control. Deflation arises when aggregate demand is insufficient to purchase all goods and services available at current price levels, such as during an economic downturn. Suppliers must cut prices to find buyers, worsening the economic decline.
Deflation raises the real cost of debt as borrowers must repay fixed loans with a currency that has increased purchasing power. This debt deflation effect further discourages spending and investment. Deflationary expectations also become self-fulfilling.
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