IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Deflation, a demon from the distant past or a real danger now ?

Listed author(s):
  • Stefaan Ide

    (National Bank of Belgium, Research Department)

  • Jef Boeckx

    (National Bank of Belgium, Research Department)

  • David Cornille

    (National Bank of Belgium, Research Department)

During the summer of 2009, Belgium and the euro area, as well as other industrialised countries, recorded negative inflation rates. Although they were the direct result of sharply falling commodity prices in the second half of 2008, policy-makers and the general public wondered whether this would be the start of a deflationary spiral. Indeed, parallels with the Great Depression in the 1930s – which was also characterised by an asset price boom-bust cycle and banking stress – were drawn. The article explains why deflation can have dramatic consequences for the economy, gauges the current deflationary risks and discusses what the policy options are in a deflationary environment. In past centuries, deflation – when defined in a broad sense as a decline in the general price level – was a frequent phenomenon and was not always accompanied by economic hardship. When deflation is defined more narrowly as a sustained decline in the general price level that gives rise to further expected falls, it is no innocent phenomenon since it confronts an economy with a number of nominal rigidities which can trigger a deflationary spiral. One such rigidity is the lower bound on nominal interest rates which can limit the central bank’s potential to stimulate the economy as real interest rates cannot fall any further. Second, the real burden of outstanding debt increases when prices fall, leading to a redistribution of wealth towards lenders who generally have a lower propensity to consume than borrowers. Third, because of money illusion, it is difficult to cut nominal wages, making the adjustment of real wages to a worsened economic situation difficult or even impossible. As shown by available indicators, risk of deflation in the euro area seems limited. The observed negative inflation rates are not a sign of widespread price falls. Inflation expectations remain in check although inflation is expected to return rather slowly to levels consistent with price stability. Taking a broader view, the IMF deflation vulnerability indicator, which combines a range of macroeconomic indicators, shows an increased risk of deflation in all industrialised countries. Having a quantitative definition of price stability that defines the latter as a low, but strictly positive rate of inflation – as the Eurosystem has –, helps to prevent deflation. Yet, when confronted with a deflationary threat, monetary policy has a range of tools to tackle deflationary risks. First, nominal policy rates can be lowered aggressively, until they hit the lower bound. If further stimulus is warranted after rates have been brought close to zero, central banks can resort to unconventional monetary policies, as they have done in previous months. Also fiscal policies can help to contain deflationary risks, especially to tackle banks’ solvency problems if they threaten financial stability, provided that the longer-term sustainability of public finances remains intact. Finally, it must be emphasised that policy-makers have to decide on appropriate policies to deal with deflationary risks in real time.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Article provided by National Bank of Belgium in its journal Economic Review.

Volume (Year): (2009)
Issue (Month): iii (September)
Pages: 7-31

in new window

Handle: RePEc:nbb:ecrart:y:2009:m:september:i:iii:p:7-31
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Boulevard de Berlaimont 14, B-1000 Bruxelles

Phone: (+ 32) (0) 2 221 25 34
Fax: (+ 32) (0) 2 221 31 62
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

in new window

  1. Adam, Klaus & Billi, Roberto M., 2006. "Optimal Monetary Policy under Commitment with a Zero Bound on Nominal Interest Rates," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 38(7), pages 1877-1905, October.
  2. Cláudia Duarte, 2008. "A Sectoral Perspective on Nominal and Real Wage Rigidity in Portugal," Economic Bulletin and Financial Stability Report Articles, Banco de Portugal, Economics and Research Department.
  3. White, Eugene N, 1990. "The Stock Market Boom and Crash of 1929 Revisited," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 67-83, Spring.
  4. Marek Jarocinski & Frank Smets, 2008. "House prices and the stance of monetary policy," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Jul, pages 339-366.
  5. Coenen, Günter, 2003. "Zero lower bound: is it a problem in the euro area?," Working Paper Series 269, European Central Bank.
  6. Luc Aucremanne & Marianne Collin & Thomas Stragier, 2007. "Assessing the Gap between Observed and Perceived Inflation in the Euro Area : Is the Credibility of the HICP at Stake ?," Working Paper Research 112, National Bank of Belgium.
  7. Fuss, Catherine & Wintr, Ladislav & Du Caju, Philip, 2007. "Downward wage rigidity for different workers and firms: an evaluation for Belgium using the IWFP procedure," Working Paper Series 840, European Central Bank.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbb:ecrart:y:2009:m:september:i:iii:p:7-31. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.