Why deflation makes monetary policy more difficult

Readers Question: From the current economic crises government has been slashing its base interest rates to now 2%. However, how would deflation which is currently being experienced in several countries mainly due to decreasing fuel prices affect the attempted recovery from this crisis?

Deflation makes monetary policy much less effective. In fact, deflation can cause a liquidity trap which implies a cut in rates will have no effect on boosting demand.

  1. Firstly, deflation can increase the real interest rate. Suppose we have deflation of -2%. Interest rates cannot fall below 0%. Therefore, the real interest rate is effectively 2%. This will discourage borrowing and investment. (At the moment, we have negative real interest rates because inflation is higher than base rates; in theory, this should encourage people to spend and invest. A fall in prices has the effect of making monetary policy tighter.)
  2. Deflation discourages consumer spending because consumers expect prices to be cheaper in the future, therefore, they delay purchasing leading to lower aggregate demand. The evidence of Japan suggests this is a real problem.
  3. Deflation also increases the real value of debt. Firms and consumers spend a higher % of their income on paying off debts leading to lower growth.

See also Problems of deflation.

 Solutions to Deflation

Deflation can be very damaging for attempts to avoid a recession. Monetary policy can play a role in avoiding deflation and recession.

Zero-interest rates. Firstly Central Banks can reduce base interest rates to zero. Lower interest rates reduce the cost of borrowing. However, with deflation, zero interest rates will not be enough to avoid a fall in economic growth

Quantitative Easing. The Central Bank can electronically create money and use this to buy bonds (both government and other financial bonds). This helps to

  1. Increase the money supply. Bank reserves should rise; in theory, this should encourage them to lend more
  2. Lower interest rates on long term bonds. By purchasing bonds, the Central Bank will reduce interest rates on bonds. These lower interest rates can help to encourage lending and spending. E.g. in 2011, the US Fed unveiled ‘operation twist’ this involved buying mortgage securities to reduce interest rates on mortgage bonds. The hope was this would encourage mortgage lending
  3. More on quantitative easing

Inflation Target. The Central Banks can make it very clear they are targetting positive inflation. They could even increase the inflation target from 2% to 3%. Increasing inflation expectations help to avoid the pressure of deflation.


5 thoughts on “Why deflation makes monetary policy more difficult”

  1. Pumping up the money supply should melt a credit freeze. The Fed chairman faces huge obstacles
    in trying to restart the credit engine and get maxed out consumers spending again.
    Given the scale of the Fed’s interventions,
    it should be weakening the value of the dollar and setting us on a course toward inflation.
    Inflation happens when prices rise. Deflation happens when they fall.
    In this December’s dark economy, falling prices for gasoline, cars,
    and clothes and just about anything would seem like a silver lining.


  2. This explanation is quite funny. If deflation discourages borrowing, as point 1 states, then why the point 3 is a problem?

    And if investment is discouraged, production is discouraged, so scarcity is increased and prices grow up again, so also there is no problem here.

    And if consumption is discouraged, well, people still need to consume. And world would be better if people consume less than actually.

    Doesn’t seem to me that deflation is something that must be solved. Evenmore, the “solutions” that this article proposes is to destroy investments, as the FED has been doing with its inflationary policies for a century.


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