Lesson 9: Money and Inflation

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Key Terms

Money Inflation Government Spending
Discount Rate Federal Funds Rate Federal Reserve System
Open Market Operations Monetary Policy Interest Rate

National Content Standards Addressed

Standard 11: Role of Money

Money makes it easier to trade, borrow, save, invest, and compare the value of goods and services.

  • Money is anything widely accepted as final payment for goods and services.
  • Money encourages specialization by decreasing the costs of exchange.
  • The basic money supply in the United States consists of currency, coins, and checking account deposits.
  • In many economies, when banks make loans, the money supply increases; when loans are paid off, the money supply decreases.

Standard 12: Role of Interest Rates

Interest rates, adjusted for inflation, rise and fall to balance the amount saved with the amount borrowed, which affects the allocation of scarce resources between present and future uses.

  • An interest rate is the price of money that is borrowed or saved.
  • Like other prices, interest rates are determined by the forces of supply and demand.
  • The real interest rate is the nominal or current market interest rate minus the expected rate of inflation.

Standard 19: Unemployment and Inflation

Unemployment imposes costs on individuals and nations. Unexpected inflation imposes costs on many people and benefits some others because it arbitrarily redistributes purchasing power. Inflation can reduce the rate of growth of national living standards because individuals and organizations use resources to protect themselves against the uncertainty of future prices.

  • Inflation is an increase in most prices; deflation is a decrease in most prices.
  • Inflation reduces the value of money
  • When people’s incomes increase more slowly than the inflation rate, their purchasing power declines.
  • The costs of inflation are different for different groups of people. Unexpected inflation hurts savers and people on fixed incomes; it helps people who have borrowed money at a fixed rate of interest.
  • Inflation imposes costs on people beyond its effects on wealth distribution because people devote resources to protect themselves from expected inflation.

Standard 20: Monetary and Fiscal Policy

Federal government budgetary policy and the Federal Reserve System’s monetary policy influence the overall levels of employment, output, and prices.

  • Monetary policies are decision by the Federal Reserve System that lead to changes in the supply of money and the availability of credit. Changes in the money supply can influence overall levels of spending, employment, and prices in the economy by inducing changes in interest rates charged for credit and by affecting the levels of personal and business investment spending.

Key Ideas

1. Review:

  • Voluntary trade creates wealth.
  • Institutions that facilitate trade help to increase wealth and raise standards of living.

2. Money enhances voluntary trade by reducing transaction costs.

  • Money is anything generally accepted in exchange for goods and services.
  • Money performs three functions in market economies:
    • Money is a store of value
    • Money is a standard of value.
    • Money is a medium of exchange.

3. The interest rate is the opportunity cost of holding money, because instead of holding money, people could hold interest-earning assets (such as Certificates of Deposit or bonds) instead.

4. Interest rates are determined by the interaction of lenders who supply funds, and borrowers, who demand funds.

  • Savers supply funds to be loaned and are paid interest for waiting to consume at a later date.
  • Demanders of these funds are the borrowers, who pay interest in order to have the right to spend now instead of waiting for future income. This spending might be on consumption or on investment goods (such as plant and equipment).
  • Interest rates vary with the type of market. Rates change within a market in response to changes in supply and demand for loanable funds.

5. The money supply is a measure of the total amount of money in an economy.

  • The money supply changes through activities of the commercial banking system.
  • The Federal Reserve System is charged with, among other things, managing the money supply of the United States. It does this by managing the stock of currency in circulation and the amount of reserves in the banking system.
    • The Federal Reserve uses open market operations to alter the amount of currency and bank reserves, generally signaling its intentions to do so through changes in its target value for the Federal Funds rate and changes in the Discount rate.
    • The Federal Fund rate is the rate of interest at which U.S. banks lend to one another their excess reserves held on deposit by Federal Reserve banks.
    • The Discount rate is the rate at which member banks may borrow short term funds directly from a Federal Reserve Bank.
  • Other policy vehicles available to the Fed include: reserve requirements, margin requirements on stock loans, credit controls on lending quality, and changes in eligible “collateral” for direct loans to member banks and other commercial institutions (e.g., investment banks).

6. Inflation is a general increase in the level of prices throughout the economy.

  • The most commonly used measure of inflation is the Consumer Price Index, (or CPI). The GDP Deflator is another important measure of inflation. Changes in these price indices indicate changes in the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar.
  • Unanticipated inflation alters the normal signals buyers and sellers receive from prices, changing their behavior in markets.
    • Inflation encourages more debt and faster spending as buyers and sellers try to avoid rising prices.
    • Inflation creates uncertainty and makes future planning more difficult.
  • Unanticipated inflation erodes the purchasing power of nominal assets, including money, bonds, and savings accounts. Individuals with fixed incomes also lose.
  • Very rapid inflation (a/k/a hyperinflation) causes markets of all types to break down, for two reasons.
    • The extremely high cost of using money during hyperinflations forces people to resort to barter, which is an inefficient means of transacting.
    • A high average rate of inflation is always accompanied by much uncertainty about the future inflation rate, which makes many contracts more risky. Greater levels of risk increase the value of the “option to wait,” which delays many consumption and investment decisions, and thereby slows economic growth.

7. Inflation is a monetary phenomenon, and almost always occurs because increases in the stock of money exceed growth in output of goods and services.

  • Rapid increases in the money supply can be the result of poor management by the central bank or by a decision to print money to support government spending.
    • A frequent problem in developing nations is that governments without stable or consistent tax collections often resort to printing money to finance government spending.
  • Inflation increases pressure on government to impose price controls which tends to make conditions worse instead of better.
    • Intended to halt rising prices, price controls instead disguise inflation and disrupt the allocation of goods and services.


Ideas To Take Away From This Lesson

  • Money is an innovation that significantly improved the operation of markets.
  • Banks facilitate the operation of markets by expanding the quantity of money in circulation.
  • Inflation is a consequence of the money supply growing faster than production.
  • The Fed manages price and interest rate levels by changing the money supply.
  • Inflation creates disruptions and losses in the overall economy as buyers and sellers act to avoid its effects.