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What is Stagflation?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 21, 2024
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Stagflation is an economic trend in which inflation and unemployment rise while general growth of the economy is slow. It can be difficult to correct this trend, because focusing on one aspect of the problem can exacerbate other aspects. Many governments try to avoid stagflation through fiscal policy, by promoting even and healthy growth and attempting to prevent inflation. If the condition continues long enough, it will trigger an economic recession and an ultimate self-correction.

One of the most well-known examples of stagflation in the United States occurred in the 1970s, during the oil crisis. Several other nations including the United Kingdom experienced this condition during this period, as high oil prices contributed to general inflation while employment and the domestic economy remained sluggish. In the United States, the Federal Reserve Bank ultimately stepped in, freezing the money supply and triggering a recession.

The word is a portmanteau of “stagnation” and “inflation,” and it appears to have been coined in 1965 by a member of the Conservative Party in Britain. He first mentioned stagflation in a House of Commons speech on 17 November, discussing the unique situation that the British economy was in. As the problem spread to other nations, the use of the term became widespread, since it was a convenient shorthand to describe a serious issue.

The causes of stagflation are widely debated. Some economists believe that excessive government regulation, for example, contributes to it. Others believe that it may be triggered by outside events, such as a sudden climb in the price of a commodity like oil; this is known as shock theory. Whatever the cause, stagflation may take some hard work to correct, and it can be difficult to ride out such a period.

In the case of the 1970s, actions by the Federal Reserve Bank did lead to a recession, but ultimately the economy stabilized, with the unemployment rate naturally self-correcting while inflation went down. In the 1980s, several measures were used to promote economic growth, which also helped the nation recover from the period of stagflation. Consumers may suffer greatly during such a time, as they find goods and services too expensive to afford, while they cannot obtain jobs to pay for basic needs. Since the government may restrict the availability of loans in an attempt to combat the situation, consumers may have to drastically cut their budgets to survive.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon74898 — On Apr 04, 2010

Alan Greenspan is the dirt of our society. He messed everything up, man.

By anon37587 — On Jul 20, 2009

What a question. let's ask ourselves why he was so reactive to all economic woes world-wide and kept interest rates low for such a long period of time? Without the credit tightening, banks too took risky loans in situations that maybe it wasn't such a good idea but after all it's a bank's business decision.

Even though this technically affects the short-term rates with either commercial banks - who is paying for the bailout money and who is losing jobs - the tax payer and future tax payers thanks to the government's Obama plan to increase spending to the trillions and create greater national debt.

For a magnitude of such high failure, doesn't someone thing we should start some court cases or just let the banks fail and start new ones. After all the Enron creative accounting happened and nobody bailed them out for risky accounting....

By bindweed — On Jun 07, 2008

How responsible is Alan Greenspan for the economic mess we're in?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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