Money, Prices, and Crisis: a Political-Economic Introduction to Inflation
Inflation is often regarded as the gravest of all financial diseases. In devaluing the wealth and wages of the rich and poor alike (though at varying rates), it has the potency to engender political and social turmoil, even to the point of upending the social order. Definitionally, inflation is seemingly simple: too much money chasing too few goods. But its causes and even its mechanics remain highly controversial—not only in the present day, but also in such paradigm cases as 1920s Germany, 1970s United States, and late 1980s Argentina. Is inflation the result of too much government debt? Of low unemployment, rising wages, and various forms of worker agitation? Of chocked supply chains and interrupted production? Of some combination thereof? Moreover, inflation is not merely an economic question, but also a political one: Who loses by inflation? Who, if anyone, benefits? What are the costs of “curing” inflation—and for whom? (Neoliberalism, after all, was justified in part as a solution to inflation.) And finally, what can inflation teach us about the nature of capitalism itself? Do capitalist economies, despite the best efforts of governments and central banks, have an endemic tendency to inflationary crisis?
In this course, we will explore the theory and reality of inflation across multiple schools and histories. We’ll begin with mainstream treatments of inflation, money, central bank, markets, and the anti-inflationary policies mainstream economics recommends. Next, we’ll look at heterodox approaches to inflation, including work by Marxist, Keynesian, and, most recently, Modern Monetary theorists. Lastly, after considering several historical examples, we’ll discuss inflation in the contemporary context: its possible causes, the policies devised to fight it, and their economic, political, and social consequences. Readings will be drawn from works by Alfred Marshall, Milton Friedman, John Manyard Keynes, Stephanie Kelton, and Alfredo Saad-Filho, among others.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
January 30 — February 20, 2023