Skip to main content

People shop at an Ikea home furnishing store Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Why Low Inflation Is No Surprise

The persistence of low inflation in developed countries in recent years has confounded central bankers and economic policymakers, because they believe that declining unemployment should drive up aggregate demand, and thus prices. But what if many of the assumptions underlying the conventional wisdom about inflation no longer apply?

BERKELEY – The fact that inflation has remained stubbornly low across the global North has come as a surprise to many economic observers. In September, the always sharp and thoughtful Nouriel Roubini of New York University attributed this trend to positive shocks to aggregate supply – meaning the supply of certain goods has increased, driving down prices.

As a result, Roubini observed, “core inflation has fallen” even though the “recent growth acceleration in the advanced economies would be expected to bring with it a pickup in inflation.” Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve “has justified its decision to start normalizing rates, despite below-target core inflation, by arguing that the inflation-weakening supply-side shocks are temporary.” Roubini concludes that, “even though central banks aren’t willing to give up on their formal 2% inflation target, they are willing to prolong the timeline for achieving it.”

In my view, interpreting today’s low inflation as a symptom of temporary supply-side shocks will most likely prove to be a mistake. This diagnosis seems to misread the historical evidence from the period between the early 1970s and the late 1990s, and is thus based on a fundamentally flawed assumption about the primary driver of inflation in the global North since World War II.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/oL3nhXl;

Handpicked to read next

Bank of England governor Frank Augstein/Getty Images

The Mystery of the Missing Inflation

Nouriel Roubini

Next week the US Fed’s Open Market Committee will meet with inflation still below its target.  And Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney is suggesting that UK rates could rise soon.  The US, UK, and the global economy have been expanding modestly for at least a year. Yet inflation is still flatlining. 

  1. haass105_Gustavo BassoNurPhoto via Getty Images_amazon Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    The Amazon and You

    Richard N. Haass

    Sovereignty entails obligations as well as rights, and where compliance cannot be induced, pressure must be applied. And though positive incentives to encourage and enable compliance would be preferable, Brazil's government is showing that there must be sticks where carrots are not enough.

    2
  2. GettyImages-1151170958 ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

    The Meritocracy Muddle

    Eric Posner

    Although populism in Western democracies is nothing new, resentment toward elites and experts has certainly been on the rise. Does this trend reflect a breakdown in the system, or a system that is actually working too well?

    11

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions