Definition of stagflation
- Stagflation is a period of rising inflation but falling output and rising unemployment.
- Stagflaton is often a period of falling real incomes as wages struggle to keep up with rising prices.
- Stagflation is often caused by a rise in the price of commodities, such as oil. Stagflation occurred in the 1970s following the tripling in the price of oil.
- A degree of stagflation occurred in 2008, following the rise in the price of oil and the start of the global recession.
- Stagflation is difficult for policy makers. For example, the Central Bank can increase interest rates to reduce inflation or cut interest rates to reduce unemployment. But, they can’t tackle both inflation and unemployment at the same time.
Video on stagflation
Causes of stagflation
- Oil price rise Stagflation is often caused by a supply-side shock. For example, rising commodity prices, such as oil prices, will cause a rise in business costs (transport more expensive) and short-run aggregate supply will shift to the left. This causes a higher inflation rate and lower GDP.
- Powerful trade unions. If trade unions have strong bargaining power – they may be able to bargain for higher wages, even in periods of lower economic growth. Higher wages are a significant cause of inflation.
- Falling productivity. If an economy experiences falling productivity – workers becoming more inefficient; costs will rise and output fall.
- Rise in structural unemployment. If there is a decline in traditional industries, we may get more structural unemployment and lower output. Thus we can get higher unemployment – even if inflation is also increasing.
- Supply shocks. If there is disruption to supply chains, there prices will start rising. The supply shock will also cause decrease in unemployment. For example, in 2021, UK supply shocks caused moderate degree of stagflation.
People may talk about stagflation if there is a rise in inflation and a fall in the growth rate (i.e. the economy is growing at a slower rate. This is less damaging than higher inflation and negative growth. But, it still represents a deterioration in the trade-off between unemployment and inflation.
Stagflation and Phillips Curve
The traditional Phillips curve suggests there is a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. A period of stagflation will shift the Phillips curve to the right, giving a worse trade-off.
Phillips curve shifting to the right, indicating stagflation (higher inflation and higher unemployment.
Stagflation in the 1970s
In 1974, we have an inflation spike of 25%, at the same time, we see negative GDP growth. This was caused by the oil price boom and also end of the Barber Boom.
This shows how in the 1970s, the US economy faced a worse trade off- there was higher inflation and higher unemployment. The Phillips Curve was shifting to the right.
Stagflation in 2010/11
In 2011, the UK experienced a rise in inflation to 5%, at the same time, the economy remained in depression with negative growth / very low growth.
This period of stagflation was caused by:
- Higher oil prices
- Higher food prices
- Impact of devaluation on the value of the Pound increasing import prices.
- Impact of higher taxes, which increased inflation but reduced living standards.
- see also: cost push inflation
Solutions to stagflation
There are no easy solutions to stagflation.
- Monetary policy can generally try to reduce inflation (higher interest rates) or increase economic growth (cut interest rates). Monetary policy cannot solve both inflation and recession at the same time.
- One solution to make the economy less vulnerable to stagflation is to reduce the economies dependency on oil. Rising oil prices are the major cause of stagflation.
- The only real solution is supply-side policies to increase productivity, this enables higher growth without inflation. See: Solutions to Stagflation
- In 2010/11, the Central Bank decided to keep interest rates low (at 0.5%) because they felt low growth was a bigger problem than some temporary cost-push inflation.
The misery index is a measure of unemployment + inflation. Stagflation leads to rise in both unemployment and inflation so a high misery index indicates a period of stagflation. This shows in 2012, the UK experienced a misery index of nearly 14% due to high unemployment and inflation.
Stagflation of the 1970s
The inflation also led to rising unemployment as the post-war economic boom stalled.
The stagflation was an important turning point for a few reasons.
- The post-war Keynesian consensus was challenged. Until the 1970s, it seemed the government and Federal Reserve could manage the economic cycle. But, the 1970s, saw a rise in both unemployment and inflation and it appeared traditional fiscal and monetary policy were unable to solve the twin problems.
- The economic problems of the 1970s, allowed monetarists like Milton Friedman to become more dominant and in the early 1980s, the UK and US introduced monetarist policies seeking to tackle inflation as primary goal and ignore short-term costs of unemployment.
2022 – A return to Stagflation
In 2022, we are seeing a rise in global inflation due to supply side shocks, rising oil prices and supply chains adjusting to Covid shocks. However, with high inflation, we are also seeing rapid growth (e.g. UK grew 7.1% in 2021) as it recovered from Covid slump.
However, the economic growth figures are slightly misleading. Most consumers don’t feel there is ‘growth’ of 7.1% because real wages have been squeezed by rising prices. Therefore, it may feel like stagflation to many consumers even it economic stats don’t show classic stagflation.