Inflation is the long term rise in the prices of goods and services caused by the devaluation of currency. While there are advantages to inflation which I will discuss later in this article, I want to first focus on some of the negative aspects of inflation.
Inflationary problems arise when we experience unexpected inflation which is not adequately matched by a rise in people’s incomes. If incomes do not increase along with the prices of goods, everyone’s purchasing power has been effectively reduced, which can in turn lead to a slowing or stagnant economy. Moreover, excessive inflation can also wreak havoc on retirement savings as it reduces the purchasing power of the money that savers and investors have squirreled away.
Causes of Inflation
So what exactly causes inflation in an economy? There is not a single, agreed-upon answer, but there are a variety of theories, all of which play some role in inflation:
1. The Money Supply
Inflation is primarily caused by an increase in the money supply that outpaces economic growth.
Ever since industrialized nations moved away from the gold standard during the past century, the value of money is determined by the amount of currency that is in circulation and the public’s perception of the value of that money. When the Federal Reserve decides to put more money into circulation at a rate higher than the economy’s growth rate, the value of money can fall because of the changing public perception of the value of the underlying currency. As a result, this devaluation will force prices to rise due to the fact that each unit of currency is now worth less.
One way of looking at the money supply effect on inflation is the same way collectors value items. The rarer a specific item is, the more valuable it must be. The same logic works for currency; the less currency there is in the money supply, the more valuable that currency will be. When a government decides to print new currency, they essentially water down the value of the money already in circulation. A more macroeconomic way of looking at the negative effects of an increased money supply is that there will be more dollars chasing the same amount of goods in an economy, which will inevitably lead to increased demand and therefore higher prices.
2. The National Debt
We all know that high national debt in the U.S. is a bad thing, but did you know that it can actually drive inflation to higher levels over time? The reason for this is that as a country’s debt increases, the government has two options: they can either raise taxes or print more money to pay off the debt.
A rise in taxes will cause businesses to react by raising their prices to offset the increased corporate tax rate. Alternatively, should the government choose the latter option, printing more money will lead directly to an increase in the money supply, which will in turn lead to the devaluation of the currency and increased prices (as discussed above).
3. Demand-Pull Effect
The demand-pull effect states that as wages increase within an economic system (often the case in a growing economy with low unemployment), people will have more money to spend on consumer goods. This increase in liquidity and demand for consumer goods results in an increase in demand for products. As a result of the increased demand, companies will raise prices to the level the consumer will bear in order to balance supply and demand.
4. Cost-Push Effect
Another factor in driving up prices of consumer goods and services is explained by an economic theory known as the cost-push effect. Essentially, this theory states that when companies are faced with increased input costs like raw goods and materials or wages, they will preserve their profitability by passing this increased cost of production onto the consumer in the form of higher prices.
A simple example would be an increase in milk prices, which would undoubtedly drive up the price of a cappuccino at your local Starbucks since each cup of coffee is now more expensive for Starbucks to make.
5. Exchange Rates
Inflation can be made worse by our increasing exposure to foreign marketplaces. In America, we function on a basis of the value of the dollar. On a day-to-day basis, we as consumers may not care what the exchange rates between our foreign trade partners are, but in an increasingly global economy, exchange rates are one of the most important factors in determining our rate of inflation.
Inflation means a sustained increase in the general price level. The main two types of inflation are
- Demand-pull inflation – this occurs when the economy grows quickly and starts to ‘overheat’ – Aggregate demand (AD) will be increasing faster than aggregate supply (LRAS).
- Cost-push inflation – this occurs when there is a rise in the price of raw materials, higher taxes, e.t.c
We can also categorise inflation by how fast the price increases are, such as:
- Disinflation – a falling rate of inflation
- Creeping inflation – low, but consistently creeping up.
- Walking/moderate inflation – (2-10%)
- Running inflation (10-20%)