What Is Inflation?

Inflation: Definition and Causes

First Published: ADawnJournal.com March 7, 2010

When there is economic trouble, you often hear about inflation. Inflation is something that many people know about, but few people actually understand. Yet, inflation plays a very important part in our lives. If not for inflation, everything would still cost a few cents, but because of inflation the price of a can of Coca-Cola has gone from five cents to over a dollar.

Essentially, inflation is the rise in the price of goods and services over a period of time. Some define inflation as the loss of purchasing power because when a price level rises, the unit of currency (the dollar for example) buys few goods and services. While in the past one dollar could buy a lot of things, these days it buys barely a can of Pepsi.

Governments around the world, as a result, pay a great amount of attention to the inflation rate, which is the percentage change in the price index over time.

Inflation is not all bad of course. There are both good and bad effects of inflation that should be understood. The good things about inflation include the fact that it prevents recessions and provides debt relief by lowering the real level of the debt. In addition, it helps to eliminate expensive debt since the value of the dollar changes over time. However, there are some bad points and they include lowering the economic productivity rate, cause shortages of goods and services and reduce the investment in capital that helps keep an economy going.

Canada has gone though many different levels of inflation during good and bad times. For example, between 1966 and 2004, the country reached an extreme low of level of inflation in 1994, when it was near zero, while in 1974 the inflation rate went past 14 percent. This just shows how much the inflation rate can shift for a country during good and bad times.

High inflation is caused by huge growth in the supply of money, while low inflation is caused by small fluctuations in the demand for goods and services. The growth of inflation at a steady rate over time is usually attributed to the growth of an economy. For example, the United States had its economy grow slowly between 1900 and 1950, and inflation moved slowly. However, the economy grew greatly from 1950 to 2000, which accounted for the huge increase in the price of items.

Most western countries, including most of Europe, Canada and the United States, have very low levels of inflation. This shows that these economies are relatively healthy and less volatile. The inflation rate of Canada and the United States is usually about 1.5 percent per year.  Many developing countries have a very high rate of inflation, including Afghanistan and Mongolia, which both have inflation rates in excess of 25 percent. This shows that these countries lack stability and have a very volatile economic situation. As well, the worse the inflation, the less likely investors will invest in a currency of a country.

As for what causes inflation, this is much harder to determine. When economies are in trouble, inflation rates can increase, but they also increase when economies are doing well. Most economists have a general idea of how inflation works, but more or less it is seen as a by-product of our modern capitalistic world and something that is not completely understood, least of all by regular people