Eli5: why can’t we just “deflate” money, and why is it bad?


Eli5: why can’t we just “deflate” money, and why is it bad?

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A modern economy only works because people spend money. If people stop spending money, they stop buying goods and services, which means that businesses have to lay people off, which means there is less money to spend, which means fewer goods and services sold, etc.

If a currency deflates, then it gains value by doing nothing at all. As a result, you are incentivized to wait as long as possible to make a purchase – after all, why buy a TV today for $500 when you can buy it next month for $450 or the month after that for $400. The incentivization to delay puts us in that downward spiral in my first paragraph. Additionally, people don’t want to invest for the same reasons – why do a risky investment when your money gains value just sitting in a coffee can?

That spiral is the death knell for an economy and is **so bad** that pretty much every government targets _some_ inflation if for no reason other than as a hedge against deflation.

Typically that means theres a recession where money becomes more valuable. So that’s not a good thing. Otherwise we can remove money from circulation (both physical and digitial), but how many people are willing to just give up their money voluntarily?

It’s bad in the Big Picture, not on the small scale.

A little of deflation is good on the individual level, if I have $1000 that can buy 100 apples today, but 200 apples tomorrow, that’s great for me…. until….

But what happens when you a bit larger and multiply the effect up the economic food change.

Company X did the math and knows it needs to sell 100 widgets a day to cover it’s expenses, like loans, payroll, materials, etc. Suddenly the price for widgets at the store goes down (deflation) now it needs to sell 200 widgets to make the same profit. But deflation doesn’t mean people’s needs change, the demand is still only for 100 widgets. So the company is in trouble, it needs to cut down expenses to stay in business. That means not taking on debt (like loans to buy new factories, or expand it’s production) that means maybe laying off employees, and that means cutting back on things like employee travel, lunches, parties, etc.

So that means the construction company (who would have built the new factory), the travel agents, the caterers, the party planners, all don’t get that revenue and they start going out of business. Employees start getting laid off too, that’s obviously bad for the employees.

In short, the deflation triggers a decline in the economy that eventually hurts everyone.

It all comes down to supply vs. demand. At the start of deflation you have more supply than demand (the company can produce 200 widgets, but only 100 are needed by the market) so the reaction is supply needs to decrease (the company lays people off, factories close etc) until it meets up with demand again.

Wages and prices would go down but your outstanding debt would not.

Millions of people would no longer be able to afford their mortgages on their lower wages.

Deflation is not seen as good for the economy because it discourages investing.

We like our economy to have a steady-but-manageable level of inflation over time because that means if you just sit on your money without doing anything with it, you will lose value over time. If you put $100,000 in a safe for 20 years, you will not be able to buy as much with it when you take it out of the safe. In order to “beat” inflation, you need to invest it somewhere it will produce returns greater than ~2% per year. Investing means companies are able to expand, which means they can provide salaries to more employees (more spending money in the general population) and produce more goods and services for people to buy, which makes the company more successful, which makes the investors more money to invest further.

You can see it’s cyclical, every step of the system needs to work properly to prop up every other step. The investor class needs to be investing, the general population needs to be buying, and the companies need to be paying employees well and producing product. If one of those three doesn’t behave “properly” then the other two will stop doing their part as well.

If currency is experiencing deflation, then that $100,000 from before will be worth *more* when you take it out of the safe, twenty years later. That means it is a safer bet to *not* invest in the long run, which causes breakdowns all along the cycle. Corporate stock value falls if people aren’t buying it, so they have to operate more efficiently, so unemployment rises, so people aren’t spending money on product, so the company does not look good to investors, and now we’re stuck in the negative version of the same loop.

First off, we *can* do that, and it goes by the name “quantitative tightening.”

Okay, sounds great, inflation problem solved, we can go about our business. Yay!

But it’s much worse than you think. What quantitative tightening does is it removes liquidity from the system, which means there’s less money for banks to borrow from the federal government, which leads to it being more difficult for businesses to start up or borrow money for capital improvements, which eventually leads to economic stagnation if you let it go on long enough.

Then, when the inflation problem has hit zero and tips into deflation territory, you start thinking, “Great! My money is worth more than it was yesterday!” and then you rationalize this as, “My money will be worth more tomorrow. I will not spend my money today. Or tomorrow, because it will be worth more the next day!” and so on and so on. This is obviously problematic for businesses, because people are now hoarding their money, so the businesses (which still have to pay rent and salaries) start losing money, so they start letting people go, and now you’ve got an unemployment problem on your hands. And then, as businesses shut down, new ones don’t open in their place because your quantitative tightening policies have made it so banks aren’t loaning money to anybody except for companies that already have so much money that they don’t need it. This exact scenario happened in 2008, although it started for reasons unrelated to quantitative tightening. However, when consumer spending goes down, the first places to go are local restaurants, and it spreads like a cancer from there.

Meanwhile, amidst all of this, because consumer spending has hit near-zero levels, the stock market tanks, taking everyone’s retirement portfolios along with it, so now if you were planning to retire next year, you’re working another ten years. You’d like to sell your house in order to move into a smaller place, but nobody can get home loans, so you’re stuck where you are. Maybe people take what they can get for their houses, which drives down home values, which drives down property taxes, which now is a big problem for communities’ abilities to pay their bills for things like fire and police departments, infrastructure maintenance and construction, school funding, et cetera.

And it’s all because people started the day by saying, “I’m not going to spend money today.”

I live in Switzerland where we had a deflation sitiation for a number of years. Virtually impossible to earn bank interest, in fact banks started charging negative interest on some bank accounts

The first guy pretty much answered the question, so I’ll go on a bit of a tangent. In the big picture, money is not a good in itself. It’s a mechanism to facilitate trade. People tend to get hung up the day to day and how much they can buy, but big picture policy makers want to have enough in circulation that economic transactions are not hindered by lack of money but risky transactions are not encouraged by too much in circulation.

Depending on what’s happening more or less money can be easily created or destroyed as a policy lever to facilitate a healthy economy. It can be a blunt instrument and not the only one, so policymakers have to be careful with a balancing act that is monetary policy so that every move they make is a net benefit to the system as a whole.

This is one of the driving forces behind the crypto or gold people. They want to remove the ability of a central authority to manipulate monetary policy. Generally This comes from a place of self interest. They tend to have a lot of money already and hate the thought of a central bank printing a bunch more to, say, devalue the currency in order to make a nation’s international trade more competitive. In this example the overall economy gets healthier and more manufacturing jobs are created, but their personal wealth in the bank decreases relative to someone in another country. Stuff like this is an ongoing tension that’s always going to be present. Again, there’s always going to be winners and losers when monetary policy is adjusted. The key is keep it where the overall economy is the most successful.

I’m going to ELI5 more than most of the previous answers.

We CAN do it, but deflation is bad because it makes people not spend money.

Why? Well with inflation, prices of everything goes up over time right? Well with deflation that means all prices go DOWN over time. Sound good, but not really. When a TV costs $1000 now or $850 next year, people think “better hold off and buy it later when it’s more affordable”.

Everyone waiting more and buying less crashes the economy because everyone has a job providing things people buy. Companies go bankrupt when people buy less.

Deflation is the opposite of inflation: money getting more valuable with time (and goods and services getting cheaper). We CAN do that, but we don’t do that.

It sounds great: the longer you hold onto your money, the more it’s worth! Want to buy something, well, just wait and it will become cheaper!

The problem is that if your money is worth more the longer you hold on to it, and things get cheaper the longer you wait to buy them, then there’s really no incentive for you to buy stuff now (maybe food, toilet paper, and medicine).

In fact, you’re best off if you hoard all your money and don’t buy anything you don’t need immediately. This is a problem for people that sell stuff or do stuff for money. If people stop buying stuff or hiring people to do things, they aren’t making money, and they don’t need to buy stuff, they don’t need to make stuff, and they don’t need as many people (to make, sell, or do things). You’d expect many companies to fail and people to lose jobs. Money will stop changing hands as quickly.

Inflation is not bad. Uncontrolable inflation is. 0.5%, maybe 1% a year? OK. 10, 15% a year? We fucked

Tldr: We can, the problem is that the methods we use to deflate money hurt just as much as the inflation. On top of that, if we go overboard with deflation, the results could be worse than if we did nothing.

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The way we deflate money is by lowering how much money is in circulation. We have to take money out of the system so each bill is worth more.

The easiest way to do that is to raise interest rates on loans. If you want to borrow money, you’ll have to give more back to the government after.

Businesses, especially small/start up businesses, need loans to function. Businesses can just not be able to function, and some will just have to shut down.

By clamping down and getting rid of money, there’s less money to have, so entities like businesses and people have to lose it.

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The other reason is that hyperdeflation is so much worse than hyperinflation.

With hyperinflation, people are afraid to keep their money because it could become worthless. They take it all out of the bank, spend as fast as possible before it becomes worthless.

But, at least people are using their money for a bit.

Hyperdeflation does the opposite, people are afraid to spend their money because it keeps doing up in value. This means no one buys anything, and the economy just kinda freezes.

If the economy is frozen, money isn’t moving. If money isn’t moving, you can’t really do anything. The way we inflate currency is by lowering interest rates on loans, but people don’t want loans because they don’t wanna buy anything.

We can come back from hyperinflation, but it’s a lot harder to come back from hyperdeflation. Because of that, we’re kinda scared to do anything too drastic.

Is there a reason we can’t just move the decimals over so that cents are relevent again? Otherwise we are going to spend ever increase amounts of bills, right? My main confusion is how to stop bread being $100 in the future

Well we CAN. We can either:

A) Destroy money. …But whose money are you going to destroy? A lot of people wouln’t like that very much.

B) Stop printing more money. Not as fast and immediate, but it would combat inflation. Also the government would have to balance it’s budget and would immediately go broke, causing all sorts of trouble.

C) Take peoples money and give them an IOU for more money in the future. IE, sell bonds. Which is what the FED is doing right now. They bought a hell of a lot of US bonds during the pandemic and republican power, and now they’re dumping them now that “the plague is over” and we have democrats in power. Coincidentally, every bond they sell is directly competing with the US government trying to sell bonds to get enough cash for their budget.

All of this pushes down inflation, and they could simply stop or ease up once it gets back to the target 3%. No one would actually want to deflate money (A negative inflation rate, where money gets more valuable with time) because it discourages people from spending. That’s the exact opposite of what money exists for.

Basically to much money; bad, to little money; bad. Only our rich overlords are allowed to horde monies

Why would I spend $100 on bread today when I know that $100 would buy me $110 of bread next week?

Purchasing power goes up every week. Purchases go down. Nobody spending money leads to recession.

Inflation like a lot of things, makes winners and losers.

The winners have convinced the losers that deflating is bad for them. So it could be done but won’t be due to fear mongering.