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A preview of policy discussions of inflation

This chapter has focused on how inflation is measured, historical experience with inflation, how to adjust nominal variables into real ones, how inflation affects the economy, and how indexing works. The causes of inflation have barely been hinted at, and government policies to deal with inflation have not been addressed at all. These issues will be taken up in depth in other chapters. However, it is useful to offer a preview here.

The cause of inflation can be summed up in one sentence: Too many dollars chasing too few goods. The great surges of inflation early in the twentieth century came after wars, which are a time when government spending is very high, but consumers have little to buy, because production is going to the war effort. Governments also commonly impose price controls during wartime. After the war, the price controls end and pent-up buying power surges forth, driving up inflation. On the other hand, if too few dollars are chasing too many goods, then inflation will decline or even turn into deflation. Therefore, slowdowns in economic activity, as in major recessions and the Great Depression, are typically associated with a reduction in inflation or even outright deflation.

The policy implications are clear. If inflation is to be avoided, the amount of purchasing power in the economy must grow at roughly the same rate as the production of goods. Macroeconomic policies that the government can use to affect the amount of purchasing power—through taxes, spending, and regulation of interest rates and credit—can thus cause inflation to rise or reduce inflation to lower levels.

A $550 million loaf of bread?

As we will learn in Money and Banking , the existence of money provides enormous benefits to an economy. In a real sense, money is the lubrication that enhances the workings of markets. Money makes transactions easier. It allows people to find employment producing one product, then use the money earned to purchase the other products they need to live on. However, too much money in circulation can lead to inflation. Extreme cases of governments recklessly printing money lead to hyperinflation. Inflation reduces the value of money. Hyperinflation, because money loses value so quickly, ultimately results in people no longer using money. The economy reverts to barter, or it adopts another country’s more stable currency, like U.S. dollars. In the meantime, the economy literally falls apart as people leave jobs and fend for themselves because it is not worth the time to work for money that will be worthless in a few days.

Only national governments have the power to cause hyperinflation. Hyperinflation typically happens when government faces extraordinary demands for spending, which it cannot finance by taxes or borrowing. The only option is to print money—more and more of it. With more money in circulation chasing the same amount (or even less) goods and services, the only result is higher and higher prices until the economy and/or the government collapses. This is why economists are generally wary of letting inflation get out of control.

Key concepts and summary

A payment is said to be indexed if it is automatically adjusted for inflation. Examples of indexing in the private sector include wage contracts with cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) and loan agreements like adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs). Examples of indexing in the public sector include tax brackets and Social Security payments.


If inflation rises unexpectedly by 5%, indicate for each of the following whether the economic actor is helped, hurt, or unaffected:

  1. A union member with a COLA wage contract
  2. Someone with a large stash of cash in a safe deposit box
  3. A bank lending money at a fixed rate of interest
  4. A person who is not due to receive a pay raise for another 11 months

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Rosalie the Retiree knows that when she retires in 16 years, her company will give her a one-time payment of $20,000. However, if the inflation rate is 6% per year, how much buying power will that $20,000 have when measured in today’s dollars? Hint : Start by calculating the rise in the price level over the 16 years.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!


Wines, Michael. “How Bad is Inflation in Zimbabwe?” The New York Times , May 2, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/02/world/africa/02zimbabwe.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Hanke, Steve H. “R.I.P. Zimbabwe Dollar.” CATO Institute . Accessed December 31, 2013. http://www.cato.org/zimbabwe.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2015. "Billion Prices Project." Accessed March 4, 2015. http://bpp.mit.edu/usa/.

Questions & Answers

what is the meaning of function in economics
Effah Reply
Pls, I need more explanation on price Elasticity of Supply
Isaac Reply
Is the degree to the degree of responsiveness of a change in quantity supplied of goods to a change in price
Discuss the short-term and long-term balance positions of the firm in the monopoly market?
Rabindranath Reply
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what is firms
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A firm is a business entity which engages in the production of goods and aimed at making profit.
What is autarky in Economics.
what is choice
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So how is the perfect competition different from others
Rev Reply
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please what type of commodity is 1.Beaf 2.Suagr 3.Bread
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The short run is a period of time in which the quantity of at least one inputs is fixed...
that is the answer that I found online and in my text book
Meaning of economics
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It will creates rooms for an effective demands.
Chinedum Reply
different between production and supply
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Economics is a science which study human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which has an alternative use.
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Debless Reply
Demand refers to the quantity of products that consumers are willing to purchase at various prices per time while Supply has to do with the quantity of products suppliers are willing to supply at various prices per time. find the difference in between
Please what are the effects of rationing Effect of black market Effects of hoarding
Atty Reply
monoply is amarket structure charecrized by asingle seller and produce a unique product in the market
Cali Reply
I want to know wen does the demand curve shift to the right
demand curve shifts to the right when there's an increase in price of a substitute or increase in income
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explain the law of supply in simple .....
the Law of supply: states that all factor being equal, when the price of a particular goods increase the supply will also increase, as it decreases the supply will also decrease
@Nana the factor that changes or shift the d demand curve to the right is 1) the increase in price of a substitute good or commodity 2) increase in income
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define an apportunity cost?
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In a simple term, it is an Alternative foregone.
opportunity cost is the next best value of a scale of preference
Both of you are not correct.
opportunity cost: is a forgone alternative
Monopoly is where is one producer produces a given product with no close substitute
what is income effect?
Qwecou Reply
if you borrow $5000 to buy a car at 12 percent compounded monthly to be repaid over the next 4 year what is monthly payment
Nitish Reply

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