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Deflation (economics)

Deflation in economics refers to a decrease in the general price level, i.e. the nominal cost of goods and services as well as wages decrease. Hence, it is an opposite to inflation.

Deflation is generally regarded as a bad thing in that it is usually a symptom of a depression or severe recession. In a deflationary situation, people tend not to spend money because they are expecting prices to drop, which causes factories to close, which causes prices to drop, which causes people not to spend money, etc. Also, deflation causes people to hold on to cash rather than to invest the money. These adverse effects of deflation are arguably due to rigidities in the economy: If wages, prices and interest rates adjusted seamlessly to deflationary expectations, they would have no real economic effects.

Examples of deflation include the Great depression and the economy of Japan during the 1990s. There was also a slow decline of the general price level in the late 19th century. During this time the gold standard was in use and known gold stocks were growing less rapidly than production. As a result, gold became more expensive in terms of goods, that is, a drop in the price level. This phenomenon ended with the discovery of gold reserves in South Africa and Alaska. With World War I, countries began to move away from the gold standard.

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Deflation may be due to several reasons :

  • Cheap raw material because prices have fallen. For example : lower oil prices.
  • High currency : exports become cheaper.
  • Gllomy prospects, and lower confidence of the consummer, when they thing that the futur mab be worse than present. For example : they are afraid of losing their jobs and save more than usually.
  • Ageing population. Ageing population tend to spend less, as for example in Japan.

Tools to fight deflation

Basically, government and central banks try to make consummers to buy more and save less. They can

  • Lower interest rates (However it is not possible when rates are at zero).
    • Borrowing is cheaper and the yield og banks acoount are lower.
    • People tend to buy shares instead of Treasury bunds (since their yield is lower).

  • Lower taxes : citizens have more money available.

  • Devaluation of the local currency or makink it cheaper. That strategy make imports higer, so there is imoprted inflation.

Deflation in the United States

There was two periods of deflation in the United States, the first was after the Civil war and the second was between 1930-1933 when deflation was at about 10 per cent/year.

Deflation in Japan

Deflation started in the 1990s. The Bank of Japan and the governement did not succeed to get rid of deflation, although rates are near zero. The reasons of deflation in Japan are :

  • Bad loans. Banks have boorowed to several companies which are now in dire straits. Japanese are afraid that banks collopase so they prefer to buy gold or Treasuries bond instead of putting their money in a bank account.
  • Deflation exported from China. Since, raw materials and wages are lower, prices of manufactured products tend also to be much lower.

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