Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Deflation or Negative Inflation: Causes and Effects

What is Deflation?

Deflation, or negative inflation, happens when prices fall in an economy. The supply of goods may be higher than the demand for those goods, but the buying power of money may be increasing. Buying power grows with a reduction in the money supply and a decrease in credit, which hurts consumer spending.

Key Takeaways

  • Deflation is the general decline in the price level of goods and services.
  • Deflation is associated with a contraction in the supply of money and credit.
  • Deflation incentivizes people to hoard cash because they can buy more with a dollar in the future.

Causes of Deflation

Monetary deflation is caused by a decrease in the supply of money. The money supply is influenced by central banks, such as the Federal Reserve. When the supply of money and credit falls, without a corresponding decrease in economic output, then the prices of all goods tend to fall. With more goods produced than demand, businesses decrease their prices to spur buying.

Declining prices can also be caused by a decline in aggregate demand, a decrease in the total demand for goods and services, and increased productivity. Causes of this shift include reduced government spending, stock market failure, consumer desire to increase savings, and tightening monetary policies such as higher interest rates. 

Milton Friedman argued that under optimal policy, in which the central bank seeks a rate of deflation equal to the real interest rate on government bonds, the nominal rate should be zero, and the price level should fall steadily at the real rate of interest. His theory birthed the Friedman rule, a monetary policy rule.

Falling prices can naturally occur when the output of the economy grows faster than the supply of circulating money and credit, such as when technology advances productivity.

Consequences of Deflation

Deflation can ripple through the economy, cause high unemployment, and catapult a recession into a depression. When companies are unable to sell products and revenue decreases, they cut costs. This may include closing stores, plants, and warehouses, and laying off workers. Workers will decrease spending, leading to less demand and more deflation. This deflationary spiral that is hard to break.

A deflationary spiral can occur during periods of economic crisis, such as a recession or depression, as economic output slows and demand for investment and consumption dries up. This may lead to an overall decline in asset prices as producers are forced to liquidate inventories that people no longer want to buy.

Consumers and businesses begin holding on to liquid money reserves to cushion against further financial loss. As more money is saved, less money is spent, further decreasing aggregate demand. Consumers have less incentive to spend money when they can reasonably expect that their money will have more purchasing power in the future.

When Do Periods of Deflation Occur?

Periods of deflation most commonly occur after long periods of artificial monetary expansion. The early 1930s was the last time significant deflation was experienced in the United States. The major contributor to this deflationary period was the fall in the money supply following catastrophic bank failures.

How Has Technology Affected Price Deflation?

Price deflation through increased productivity varies by industry, like the technology sector. Improvements in technology have resulted in significant reductions in the average cost per gigabyte of data. In 1980, the average cost of one gigabyte of data was $437,500; by 2014, the average cost was 3 cents. This reduction caused the prices of manufactured products that use this technology to fall.

What Is the Difference Between Deflation and Disinflation?

Deflation is a sustained decrease in the price level of goods and services, while disinflation is a decrease in the rate of inflation.

The Bottom Line

Deflation is the decline in the price level of goods and services associated with a contraction in the supply of money and credit. The money supply is influenced by?central banks. When the supply of money falls, without a corresponding decrease in economic output, the prices of all goods tend to fall. Deflation can cause high unemployment, recession, or depression.

Article Sources
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  1. Milton Friedman. "The Optimum Quantity of Money," Page 33-34. Transaction Publishers, 2006.

  2. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "How Real Is the Threat of Deflation to the Banking Industry."

  3. HumanProgress. "Average cost of hard drive storage per gigabyte."

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