The Economic History Review

Inflation and globalisation: The Tawney Lecture 2022

Volume 76 Issue 2
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Pages: 391-412Authors: Harold James
Published online: June 17, 2022DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13174

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The paper examines the causal relationships and interdependence between inflation and globalisation over centuries: in the sixteenth century, in the age of Spanish silver; then in the first age of modern globalisation from in the middle of the nineteenth century; and finally in the new globalisation that took off in the 1970s. In the latter cases, inflation was a response to a negative supply shock, and eventually generated policy decisions on economic opening. Both recent globalisations may be explained as technologically driven, and some of the most important productivity gains involved the cost of transport, but the fundamental innovations substantially pre-dated the moment at which they were economically transformative. Scarcity dramatically changes relative prices, but not the overall price level. Initially inflation became a policy solution, an attractive way of meeting the challenges of scarcity, but then its increasing costs became apparent, and more, rather than less, global integration looked like a way of reducing costs and minimising social pressure. Policy choices were involved in generating the globalised world: not only the removal of impediments to commerce, but also a consensus around a stable and internationally applicable monetary framework, whether the gold standard in the late nineteenth century or a modern inflation targeting regime in the late twentieth century.