What Is Inflation?
Inflation is a rise in prices, which can be translated as the decline of over time. The rate at which purchasing power drops can be reflected in the average price increase of a and services over some period of time. The rise in prices, which is often expressed as a percentage, means that a unit of currency effectively buys less than it did in prior periods. Inflation can be contrasted with , which occurs when prices decline and purchasing power increases.
While it is easy to measure the price changes of individual products over time, human needs extend beyond just one or two products. Individuals need a big and diversified set of products as well as a host of services for living a comfortable life. They include commodities like food grains, metal, fuel, utilities like electricity and transportation, and services like health care, entertainment, and labor.
Inflation aims to measure the overall impact of price changes for a diversified set of products and services. It allows for a single value representation of the increase in the price levelof goods and services in an economy over a period of time.
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the 12-month period ending June 2022. This was the largest increase for a 12-month period since November 1981.1
Prices rise, which means that one unit of money buys fewer goods and services. This loss of purchasing power impacts the cost of living for the common public which ultimately leads to a deceleration in economic growth. The consensus view among economists is that sustained inflation occurs when a nation’s money supply growth outpaces economic growth.
To combat this, the monetary authority (like the central bank) takes the necessary steps to manage the money supply and credit to keep inflation within permissible limits and keep the economy running smoothly.
Theoretically, monetarism is a popular theory that explains the relation between inflation and the money supply of an economy. For example, following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires, massive amounts of gold and especially silver flowed into the Spanish and other European economies.2 Since the money supply rapidly increased, the value of money fell, contributing to rapidly rising prices.
Inflation is measured in a variety of ways depending upon the types of goods and services. It is the opposite of deflation, which indicates a general decline in prices when the inflation rate falls below 0%. Keep in mind that deflation shouldn’t be confused with disinflation, which is a related term referring to a slowing down in the (positive) rate of inflation.
Causes of Inflation
An increase in the supply of money is the root of inflation, though this can play out through different mechanisms in the economy. A country’s money supply can be increased by the monetary authorities by:
- Printing and giving away more money to citizens
- Legally devaluing (reducing the value of) the legal tender currency
- Loaning new money into existence as reserve account credits through the banking system by purchasing government bonds from banks on the secondary market (the most common method)
In all of these cases, the money ends up losing its purchasing power. The mechanisms of how this drives inflation can be classified into three types: demand-pull inflation, cost-push inflation, and built-in inflation.
Demand-pull inflation occurs when an increase in the supply of money and credit stimulates the overall demand for goods and services to increase more rapidly than the economy’s production capacity. This increases demand and leads to price rises.
When people have more money, it leads to positive consumer sentiment. This, in turn, leads to higher spending, which pulls prices higher. It creates a demand-supply gap with higher demand and less flexible supply, which results in higher prices.