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September/October 1995, 
Vol. 77, No. 5
Posted 1995-09-01

Deflation and Real Economic Activity Under the Gold Standard

by Christopher J. Neely and Geoffrey E. Wood

Targeting the price level, rather than the inflation rate, permits the future price level to be known and long-run plans to be made more easily. Despite these advantages, countries have adopted inflation targets because price level targets require policymakers to reduce the price level to a pre-announced value after an inflationary shock. Critics claim making such a commitment is undesirable, because deflation—a fall in the general price level—can have harmful effects. Christopher J. Neely and Geoffrey E. Wood examine the facts surrounding the temporary periods of deflation that occurred under the gold standard from 1870 to 1913. Although they caution against drawing conclusions from 100-year-old data generated under a much different monetary regime, they think that another look at this period is warranted, because much of the modern fear about falling prices is derived from the experiences of the era.