Stagflation is the coincidence of high inflation during a recession, and it has only happened once in the U. S., during the 1970s. There was a mild recession in 1972, and although the Fed and the Treasury had each provided stimulus, President Richard Nixon wanted to boost the economy, to enhance his re-election chances. But, when Nixon took matters into his own hands, he just made the situation worse—much worse!
President Nixon implemented wage and price controls and, simultaneously, took the
U. S. Dollar off the Gold Standard. Initially, the dollar surged in global markets; however, when Great Britain tried to exchange $3 billion, in dollars for gold, the dollar plummeted. As the global markets abandoned the dollar, the price of gold skyrocketed from $30 per ounce, to $120.
During a normal recession, as the economy slows, and unemployment rises, inflation is generally weak. In such cases, the Fed would flood the economy with cash, to stimulate the economy, and thus promote consumer spending and hiring. In a stagflation situation, however, stimulus measures intended to enhance employment, would just make the inflation problem even worse. And, that just leads to a sure case of: “Damned if you do, and dammed if you don’t!”
Businesses couldn’t pass the higher prices on to customers due to the price controls. So, the only alternative businessmen had, rather than to raise prices, was to cut its expenses by laying-off workers. But, that only made the recession worse. But, prices kept rising, even though they couldn’t be passed on. Demand also increased as people thought prices might rise even more in the future.
Paul Volcker, as Chairman of the Fed, finally solved the stagflation problem.
He raised the “Fed Funds” (short-term intra-bank lending) rate by two full percent in one day in 1981, up to 20%, and that slammed the breaks on the economy. Incidentally, the higher interest rates also strengthened the dollar, which helped alleviate inflation.
Now, I’m not predicting a return of stagnation to the U. S. economy; but, with Donald Trump’s bull in the china shop mentality, and his apparent ignorance of the issues; I can only wonder. He has also handicapped himself by appointing mostly inexperienced ideologues with which to fill-out his Regime. As I have been following the financial markets, and monitoring his attempt to micromanage the various industries, I sure have my doubts about positive economic outcomes ever becoming reality.
I would prefer raising an awfully scary issue, and being wrong; rather than not have suggested such an abnormal situation at all. In 2008, as America went through The Great Recession, we were extremely lucky to have had such a smooth transition, from the Bush Financial Team to the Obama Team. All experienced pros, who worked well together, took the political heat and did what was best for America. I’m surely not expecting any such thing from the Donald Trump Regime!
NOTE: If you use a financial professional in your investing, ask her or him what they think the chances of stagflation might be. Chances are, they have never even heard of the term.