Inflation is a quantitative measure of the rate at which the average price level of a basket of selected goods and services in an economy increases over a period of time. It is the constant rise in the general level of prices where a unit of currency buys less than it did in prior periods. Often expressed as a percentage, inflation indicates a decrease in the purchasing power of a nation’s currency.
As prices rise, a single unit of currency loses value as it buys fewer goods and services. This loss of purchasing power impacts the general 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, a country’s appropriate monetary authority, like the central bank, then takes the necessary measures to keep inflation within permissible limits and keep the economy running smoothly.
Inflation is measured in a variety of ways depending upon the types of goods and services considered and is the opposite of deflation which indicates a general decline occurring in prices for goods and services when the inflation rate falls below 0 percent.
- Inflation is the rate at which the general level of prices for goods and services is rising and, consequently, the purchasing power of currency is falling.
- Inflation is classified into three types: Demand-Pull inflation, Cost-Push inflation, and Built-In inflation.
- Most commonly used inflation indexes are the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Wholesale Price Index (WPI).
- Inflation can be viewed positively or negatively depending on the individual viewpoint.
- Those with tangible assets, like property or stocked commodities, may like to see some inflation as that raises the value of their assets.
- People holding cash may not like inflation, as it erodes the value of their cash holdings.
- Ideally, an optimum level of inflation is required to promote spending to a certain extent instead of saving, thereby nurturing economic growth.
Causes of Inflation
Rising prices are the root of inflation, though this can be attributed to different factors. In the context of causes, inflation is classified into three types: Demand-Pull inflation, Cost-Push inflation, and Built-In inflation.
(i) Demand-Pull Effect
Demand-pull inflation occurs when the overall demand for goods and services in an economy increases more rapidly than the economy’s production capacity. It creates a demand-supply gap with higher demand and lower supply, which results in higher prices. For instance, when the oil producing nations decide to cut down on oil production, the supply diminishes. It leads to higher demand, which results in price rises and contributes to inflation.
Additionally, an increase in money supply in an economy also leads to inflation. With more money available to individuals, positive consumer sentiment leads to higher spending. This increases demand and leads to price rises. Money supply can be increased by the monetary authorities either by printing and giving away more money to the individuals, or by devaluing (reducing the value of) the currency. In all such cases of demand increase, the money loses its purchasing power.
(ii) Cost-Push Effect
Cost-push inflation is a result of the increase in the prices of production process inputs. Examples include an increase in labor costs to manufacture a good or offer a service or increase in the cost of raw material. These developments lead to higher cost for the finished product or service and contribute to inflation.
(iii) Built-In Inflation
Built-in inflation is the third cause that links to adaptive expectations. As the price of goods and services rises, labor expects and demands more costs/wages to maintain their cost of living. Their increased wages result in higher cost of goods and services, and the spiral continues as one factor induces the other and vice-versa.
Theoretically, monetarism establishes the relation between inflation and 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. Since the money supply had rapidly increased, prices spiked and the value of money fell, contributing to economic collapse.
Types of Inflation Indexes
Depending upon the selected set of goods and services used, multiple types of inflation values are calculated and tracked as inflation indexes. Most commonly used inflation indexes are the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Wholesale Price Index (WPI).
(a) The Consumer Price Index
The CPI is a measure that examines the weighted average of prices of a basket of goods and services which are of primary consumer needs. They include transportation, food and medical care. CPI is calculated by taking price changes for each item in the predetermined basket of goods and averaging them based on their relative weight in the whole basket. The prices in consideration are the retail prices of each item, as available for purchase by the individual citizens. Changes in the CPI are used to assess price changes associated with the cost of living, making it one of the most frequently used statistics for identifying periods of inflation or deflation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the CPI on a monthly basis and has calculated it as far back as 1913.
(b) The Wholesale Price Index
The WPI is another popular measure of inflation, which measures and tracks the changes in the price of goods in the stages before the retail level. While WPI items vary from one country to other, they mostly include items at the producer or wholesale level. For example, it includes cotton prices for raw cotton, cotton yarn, cotton gray goods, and cotton clothing. Although many countries and organizations use WPI, many other countries, including the U.S., use a similar variant called the producer price index (PPI).
(c) The Producer Price Index
The producer price index is a family of indexes that measures the average change in selling prices received by domestic producers of goods and services over time. The PPI measures price changes from the perspective of the seller and differs from the CPI which measures price changes from the perspective of the buyer.
In all such variants, it is possible that the rise in the price of one component (say oil) cancels out the price decline in another (say wheat) to a certain extent. Overall, each index represents the average weighted cost of inflation for the given constituents which may apply at the overall economy, sector or commodity level.