Inflationary Pressures in the AD/AS Diagram
Inflation fluctuates in the short run. Higher inflation rates have typically occurred either during or just after economic booms: for example, the biggest spurts of inflation in the U.S. economy during the twentieth century followed the wartime booms of World War I and World War II. Conversely, rates of inflation generally decline during recessions. As an extreme example, inflation actually became negative—a situation called “deflation”—during the Great Depression. Even during the relatively short 1991-1992 recession, the inflation rate declined from 5.4% in 1990 to 3.0% in 1992. During the relatively short 2001 recession, the rate of inflation declined from 3.4% in 2000 to 1.6% in 2002. During the deep recession of 2007–2009, the inflation rate declined from 3.8% in 2008 to –0.4% in 2009. Some countries have experienced bouts of high inflation that lasted for years. In the U.S. economy since the mid–1980s, inflation does not seem to have had any long-term trend to be substantially higher. Instead, it has stayed in the 1–5% range annually.
The AD/AS framework implies two ways that inflationary pressures may arise. One possible trigger is if aggregate demand continues to shift to the right when the economy is already at or near potential GDP and full employment, thus pushing the macroeconomic equilibrium into the AS curve's steep portion. In Figure (a), there is a shift of aggregate demand to the right. The new equilibrium E1 is clearly at a higher price level than the original equilibrium E0. In this situation, the aggregate demand in the economy has soared so high that firms in the economy are not capable of producing additional goods, because labor and physical capital are fully employed, and so additional increases in aggregate demand can only result in a rise in the price level.
An alternative source of inflationary pressures can occur due to a rise in input prices that affects many or most firms across the economy—perhaps an important input to production like oil or labor—and causes the aggregate supply curve to shift back to the left. In Figure (b), the SRAS curve's shift to the left also increases the price level from P0 at the original equilibrium (E0) to a higher price level of P1 at the new equilibrium (E1). In effect, the rise in input prices ends up, after the final output is produced and sold, passing along in the form of a higher price level for outputs.
The AD/AS diagram shows only a one-time shift in the price level. It does not address the question of what would cause inflation either to vanish after a year, or to sustain itself for several years. There are two explanations for why inflation may persist over time. One way that continual inflationary price increases can occur is if the government continually attempts to stimulate aggregate demand in a way that keeps pushing the AD curve when it is already in the SRAS curve's steep portion. A second possibility is that, if inflation has been occurring for several years, people might begin to expect a certain level of inflation. If they do, then these expectations will cause prices, wages and interest rates to increase annually by the amount of the inflation expected. These two reasons are interrelated, because if a government fosters a macroeconomic environment with inflationary pressures, then people will grow to expect inflation. However, the AD/AS diagram does not show these patterns of ongoing or expected inflation in a direct way.