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Stagflation vs inflation: Understanding economic impacts

Understanding the dynamics of an economy requires grappling with concepts like inflation, deflation, and stagflation. A decline in the purchasing power of money due to a general increase in prices throughout an economy is referred to as inflation. 

On the other hand, stagflation presents a more complex scenario. It combines stagnant economic growth with high inflation and unemployment.

While inflation alone might signal a growing economy, stagflation indicates a troubling paradox where economic growth halts even as prices continue to rise. 

This blog delves into the nuances of stagflation vs inflation, exploring their definitions, causes, and impacts on the economy.

Inflation overview

In essence, inflation is the pace at which prices for goods and services increase within an economy, indicating a decline in the purchasing power of money. When inflation occurs, everyday essentials and luxury items become more expensive. 

This rise in prices is commonly tracked using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which indicates how the prices of a selected basket of goods and services change over time. Based on CPI, India’s inflation rate as of February 2024 is about 5%. 

Inflation can stem from various causes, including demand-pull inflation, where demand outpaces supply, leading to higher prices. Consider a rise in prices as a result of increased production costs. That’s cost-push inflation. 

A wage-price spiral, in which wage rises cause prices to rise, which in turn cause additional wage demands, is what propels built-in inflation.

Stagflation- What is it?

Stagflation is a unique economic scenario marked by stagnant growth, high unemployment, and rising inflation, all occurring simultaneously. It represents a challenging condition for policymakers because traditional economic remedies often conflict with each other. 

For instance, measures to curb inflation, like hiking interest rates, can hinder economic growth and increase unemployment. Conversely, stimulating economic growth through increased government spending or tax cuts can further escalate inflation.

Historically, stagflation became prominent in the 1970s, especially in the United States, triggered by surging oil prices. This period saw economies grappling with the dual dilemma of inflation and unemployment, largely due to the OPEC oil embargo that escalated oil prices, impacting industries reliant on oil and thereby stalling economic growth and elevating unemployment levels.

Research by the RBI indicates that India’s risk of stagflation is still very low as of December 2023, at just 1%, because of improving financial conditions, a steady INR/USD exchange rate, and stable domestic fuel costs.

Difference between inflation and stagflation

DefinitionA widespread rise in costs and a decrease in purchasing power.An amalgam of high unemployment, high inflation, and slow economic development.
CausesCaused by variables such as cost-push inflation, demand-pull inflation, and money supply increase. Often triggered by supply shocks (e.g., oil price hikes), poor economic policies, and demand-supply imbalances.
FrequencyA regular occurrence in many economies, often viewed as a sign of a growing economy.A rare phenomenon, historically significant during the 1970s due to oil crises.
DurationTypically measured annually, with rates fluctuating based on economic conditions.Tends to be long-term, lasting until significant policy changes are implemented.
Effect on GDPThis can lead to short-term GDP growth as consumer spending increases in anticipation of higher prices.Usually results in negative or very low GDP growth due to reduced economic activity.
EmploymentGenerally, an inverse relationship exists between inflation and unemployment (Phillips curve).Characterised by high unemployment rates coupled with high inflation.
RecoveryManaged through monetary policies like adjusting interest rates, controlling money supply, and fiscal measures.Complex to address as efforts to stimulate growth may worsen inflation while fighting inflation might suppress growth further.
Government policyActively managed by monetary authorities using tools like interest rate adjustments.Requires careful balancing of monetary and fiscal policies to address both inflation and stagnation.
Impact on economyIncreases the cost of living and may pressure wages upward.Creates a challenging economic environment with limited job opportunities and rising costs.

Other concepts:

When we discuss these economic concepts, a common query arises: What are inflation, deflation, stagflation, and hyperinflation? Here’s a quick rundown of a few closely linked concepts: 

  • No-flation is a situation where there is neither inflation nor deflation, and prices remain stable over a period.
  • Deflation is the overall decline in the level of prices for goods and services, which raises the purchasing power of money.
  • Hyperinflation is characterised by exceptionally high and usually rapid inflation, which weakens the real value of the currency and makes people hold less of it.
  • A recession is defined as a brief period of time when trade and industrial activity are decreased. It is typically indicated by a dip in GDP over the course of two quarters.


While inflation and stagflation are both related to rising prices, they occur under different economic conditions and have distinct impacts on the economy. Inflation can be managed with monetary policies. 

Stagflation, on the other hand, is a rarer and more complex phenomenon making it challenging to address without exacerbating one issue over another. Understanding the concepts of inflation, stagflation, recession and their differences is important for effective economic planning and policy-making.


Is stagflation worse than inflation?

Stagflation is often considered worse than inflation due to its complex nature, combining stagnant economic growth, high unemployment, and inflation. This combination presents a serious problem for policymakers because efforts to stimulate the economy can make inflation worse while standard methods to counteract it might further impede economic growth.

What is the difference between inflation deflation and stagflation?

Inflation is the gradual decrease in purchasing power of money due to rising prices. Deflation is the opposite, with prices declining over time, which can increase purchasing power but may signal a weakening economy. Stagflation is a unique and challenging condition that combines the worst of both: high inflation with stagnant economic growth and high unemployment.

Is stagflation and cost-push inflation same?

No, stagflation and cost-push inflation are not the same. Consider a rise in your grocery price as the cost of producing and delivering food increases. That’s cost-push inflation. Now, that is happening across the whole economy, with high pricing, stagnant company growth, and job losses. That is the unfavourable combination of stagflation. Cost-push inflation raises prices, which can lead to stagflation, but stagflation also includes other problems like higher unemployment and slower economic growth.

How does stagflation differ from normal inflation?

Normal inflation is characterised by rising prices in an economy. Stagflation, however, is a more problematic condition that combines high inflation with stagnant economic growth and rising unemployment. Unlike normal inflation, which can indicate a healthy, expanding economy, stagflation presents a challenging scenario for policymakers because the usual tools to combat inflation may further harm economic growth.

Is stagflation a recession?

No, stagflation is not a recession, but it shares some similarities. A recession is defined by a significant decline in economic activity across the economy, lasting more than a few months. It’s typically marked by decreased spending and investment, leading to lower GDP, income, employment, and trade. Stagflation, however, is a unique condition where high inflation, high unemployment, and stagnant economic growth occur simultaneously. While a recession focuses on economic contraction, stagflation includes the additional complexity of inflation, making it a distinct economic challenge.

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