Ohlsson: War often leads to inflation

In a speech at Uppsala University, Deputy Governor Henry Ohlsson observed that inflation in the 1900s has tended to rise in connection with wars. This applies both to countries directly involved in the war and those that are not.

Date: 17/05/2022 13:15

Speaker: Deputy Governor Henry Ohlsson

“When major and unusual events such as the war in Ukraine occur, there is no 'manual' for how to act as an economic policy decision-maker. All wars are different – in terms of their scale and duration, their location and their impact on the world around them.”

This is how Henry Ohlsson began his speech at Uppsala University, where he described what research literature has to say about the connection between war and inflation. He also looked back at earlier episodes of war being associated with rising inflation in Sweden.

He highlighted four episodes: the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War, and, starting in the mid-70s, a more prolonged episode of war in the Middle East. The first three wars were marked by a more short-term inflation, while inflation became more persistently high during the latter period, largely because economic policy became too expansionary.

Henry Ohlsson said that Sweden now has better conditions for coping with the balancing act that rising inflation entails for monetary policy, compared with when inflation began to rise in the 1970s. He highlighted three factors behind this: the inflation target, the wage-formation model and the fact that today there is a more robust fiscal policy framework in place.

So what can we learn from history with regard to our current situation? asked Mr Ohlsson. During many of the periods of high inflation in connection with war, the effects of monetary policy have been heavily dependent on the expectations of companies and households regarding future economic developments.

“The price increases we have seen in recent months are not something that monetary policy can affect. But the high inflation risks setting off a spiral of price increases, wage drift, price increases, wage drift and so on. It is essential to ward off these tendencies in time. It was therefore time to change the direction of monetary policy and start raising the repo rate” concluded Mr Ohlsson.

Updated 17/05/2022