During this cooperation on Economic Literacy, the project partners neglected one crucial topic: work. It is of high relevance in times of crisis, wars on resources, digitalisation and the current structural changes of our economies. For this reason, the project group develops another learning platform on just this issue. Find here access to the project website and discover…
Would you like to understand how money is created? What the different facets of inequality are and how to address them? What economic growth, climate change and sustainable development are all about? Why we live in a “debt economy” – and what about global justice? Do you want to learn something about taxes without having to yawn? Then immerse yourself in courses we have written for you on these and other topics. We are adult educators and researchers from seven European countries.
For an overview of the respective topic we offer a short version; plus background information for those who want to learn more. For those in a hurry, we have prepared a short introduction to each course. Adult education trainers will also find methodological suggestions (didactic exercises) for integrating socio-economic issues into their educational work.
Learning is not a one-way street: You can deepen your knowledge in interactive exercises. You can exchange ideas with others through the forum. You can connect with us via the chat.
Prices in Europe have been rising since 2021. It was quickly defined as inflation. Some economists did not want to use this term hastily. But what is inflation? What, on the other hand, does deflation mean? And what is meant by the term stagflation?
What does inflation mean?
Inflation refers to a permanent increase in the overall price level of an economy. Not only the prices for individual goods or services are affected, but all prices and thus the price level (the average of goods prices) as a whole. This is a process of rising prices. People can buy less and less for the same amount of money.
How is inflation measured?
A price index is used as a basis. There are different ones. The price index for the gross domestic product (GDP) reflects the price development of all goods and services that are included in the GDP of a country. The price index for the standard of living or the consumer price index reflects the goods and services of daily use. A so-called basket of goods was determined. It consists of approx. 650 goods and services (in Germany). The Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) applies to the European Union. This reflects the data of the national statistical offices of the Euro zone and the entire EU. The data are comparable due to the “harmonised methodology”.
An overview of inflation developments in Europe by HICP for individual countries is provided by EUROSTAT (2013-2021). The statistical office of the European Union also published up-to-date figures on inflation by economic sector (2022).
What are the reasons of inflation?
They are usually complex and controversial; there are various opinions on the subject.
Some economists argue that an expansion of the money supply in relation to the supply of goods must inevitably lead to inflation. This view is rejected, among other things, by stating that there should then already have been a big inflation in the last 20 years. After all, the volume of money in the world is many times larger than the value of the world’s gross social product.
There is widespread agreement that inflation can be demand- and/or supply-driven.
Inflation triggered by the demand side of an economy can occur, for example, when many citizens stop saving and spend money on consumer goods at the same time. Or when companies invest in large numbers and demand machines in return. Or when a country’s products are bought abroad in particular quantities and production cannot keep up.
Similarly, a strong price increase affecting all prices can be triggered by the supply side of an economy. An example is the so-called wage-price spiral: due to the market power of companies, profit expectations dominate price formation (profit push inflation). Conversely, trade unions can push through wage increases due to their power (if any). If companies do not accept to make lower profits or if they can not compensate for the increased wages through higher productivity, they will pass these higher costs on to prices. They rise. Workers’ representatives, for their part, try to compensate by raising wages. And so on.
Inflation – price increase
A price increase should not be confused with an inflation. It affects only individual goods or occurs only in some segments of an economy. A price increase can also lead to an increase of the general price level, since individual products are components of many other products, such as oil or gas.
The situation in 2022
At present, the prices for energy (especially gas and oil) and food are rising. Since energy is needed for the entire production and since without the (fossil) energy sources an economy is not possible under capitalism, many other prices are rising as a result.
What are the reasons? With the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, gas prices jumped. This is due to a gas shortage as a result of the sanctions against Russia and the reduced supply of oil and gas by Russian operators. The reduced supply meets a liberalised market for example in Germany, so it seems that even long-term supply contracts of gas are linked to the stock exchange price of gas. In this situation, the German government commissioned a private company, Trading Hub Europe (THE), to buy gas on the stock exchanges in large quantities. This strong demand from a large customer on behalf of a government drove prices up artificially. They are distorted. Critics argue that this could have been avoided if THE had regulated the buying and selling of gas through future contracts as usual.
In addition, there is the so-called merit order principle on the electricity stock exchange: all suppliers charge according to the price of the most expensive producer. At present, this is the gas-fired power plants. As a result, much cheaper suppliers, for example of green electricity, nevertheless sell their electricity at high prices. By calculating the electricity prices, they make high profits, which can be equated with non-performing income (rents). They are paid by the consumers through their bills.
Inflation is therefore not something that suddenly befalls a society. It can be caused by different developments and activities of different players. It can also be caused by wrong political decisions.
Consequences of inflation for an economy
Inflation affects people differently. If their income does not rise at least as much as prices, they can buy less for the same money. This hits people with „small wallets“ particularly hard. They include the unemployed, families affected by child poverty or people in old-age poverty. Inflation damages their livelihoods.
Inflation leads to losses for creditors and gains for debtors. Those who have invested money or assets lose them. This is because it is worth less when prices rise, but not when interest rates rise. In a mirror image, debtors gain who have taken out a loan. If the inflation rate is higher than the interest rate at which a loan was taken out, they pay back less debt. This can also affect the state, which can thus reduce its public debt.
What does deflation mean?
This refers to a reverse development. Prices fall over a longer period of time and in different sectors of the economy, so that the overall price level falls. Companies stop investing because they expect prices to fall even further and they do not make a profit. Likewise, consumers hold back because they expect products and services to become even cheaper. A recession threatens. But the value of money is rising.
What does stagflation mean?
This word is a compound of “stagnation” and “inflation”. It indicates that in the real economy (the production and consumption of goods and services) there is only low growth and often also unemployment. Economic development is stagnating. At the same time, on the monetary level of the economy, there is a permanent increase in prices in almost all areas of the economy.
Stagflation is often triggered by so-called supply shocks. Examples are the energy crisis in Europe at the latest since 2022 or disrupted supply chains as a result of the Corona crisis in 2020-2021 and others. As a result, production comes to a standstill, and at the same time products become more expensive.
How to cope with inflation?
Tackling the causes
The first step is to address the causes of the constantly rising prices. In the context of the current situation (2022), this means a) gaining access to cheap oil and gas and b) changing the pricing mechanisms in the oil and gas markets.
Central bank policy
The central bank of an economic area shall ensure a stable price level. (The US Federal Reserve also has to consider effects of monetary policy on the labour market). In “normal” times, the European Central Bank aims for an inflation rate of close to 2%. This is seen as necessary to enable growth. If inflation occurs, it can raise interest rates. As a result, less credit is taken out, less is invested, less is produced, sold and demanded. This can have a dampening effect. But it can also usher in deflation. This danger exists if the causes cannot be remedied with such an interest rate policy.
Tips for each individual
The recommendations depend on the wealth situation of each individual.
– Try to understand the situation, recognise the causes and assess possible developments.
– If inflation is forecast to continue over the long term: purchase long-term consumer goods now (e.g. printer, PC, duvets, bicycle).
– If medium-term or temporary inflation is expected: refrain from buying durable consumer goods.
(However, both strategies are rational from the point of view of an individual. If many act in this way, this can have a crisis-reinforcing effect.)
– Acquire real estate or/and territory, preferably such that can also be used for agricultural purposes.
– Join others to form cooperatives or active circles of friends who support each other and grow their own food.
– Acquire silver and/or gold as a means of exchange in the extreme case of currency failure.
– Keep cash on hand, as there may be a bank run due to several crises going on at the same time.
– If necessary, purchase shares or bonds after consultation with various providers and e.g. consumer protection organisations; take into account ethical aspects (no shares for war and armaments industry) as well as economic developments (future of medium-sized companies).
– Stockpiling for crises: Information should be provided by the Ministry of the Interior of each country. Other advice can be found in numerous internet sources.
– Don’t buy brand-name products, others are just as good but cheaper.
– Buy longlasting, energy-saving household appliances.
– Take out only necessary insurances and contracts and cancel them if necessary, for example mobile phone contracts, newspaper subscriptions, repair insurance, insurances for glass, glasses, mobile phones, etc.
– Get politically involved for an economic policy in which inflation and deflation are unnecessary. Democracy needs participation! The power of citizens is bigger than they often think.
Brächer, Michael / Schultz, Stefan, Deutschlands teure Gashamsterei, DER SPIEGEL, 42/2022, 14.10.2022, https://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/energiekrise-nachlaessigkeit-beim-gaseinkauf-soll-preise-in-die-hoehe-getrieben-haben-a-75cee149-18c9-4658-b863-b52cf4597271 (03/09/2022)
Budzinksi, Oliver / Jasper, Jörg / Michler, Albrecht, F., Inflation, in: Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, https://wirtschaftslexikon.gabler.de/definition/inflation-39320/version-262731 (03/09/2022)
European Central Bank | EUROSYSTEM, Inflation measurement and the strategy review, https://www.ecb.europa.eu/home/search/review/html/inflation-measurement.en.html (03/09/2022)
EUROSTAT | Euro indicators, Flash estimate – October 2022
Euro area annual inflation up to 10.7%, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/15131964/2-31102022-AP-EN.pdf/9a37ec66-2f69-5b3c-a791-662cec2f439b?t=1666964020949 (31/10/2022)
EUROSTAT, HICP – inflation rate, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-datasets/product?code=tec00118 (30/10/2022)
Merit Order, in: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merit_order (03/09/2022)
Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, Kurz erklärt – das Merit-Order-Prinzip, https://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/deutschland/wirtschaft/video-652078.html (03/09/2022)
Wohltmann, Hans-Werner, Stagflation, in: Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, https://wirtschaftslexikon.gabler.de/definition/stagflation-45364 (03/09/2022)
ITD – Innovación, Transferencia y Desarrollo hosted an event in Barcelona/Spain on 21st July 2022 to introduce economic education to interested citizens. It started with a sociometric exercise. In this way, the participants were asked what they knew about the different schools of economic thought, about neoclassicism, the marginalists, Marx, Keynes and others. Then the ITD team’s course on different economic theories was put up for discussion. This was combined with a look at the history of economic thought. It was amazing for the participants to see the impact theory can have in political and social practice. Theory can be quite practical!
This also became clear when the discussion turned to the course “Economic Strategies to manage the crises“. In it, different options were reflected: a political strategy to promote market mechanisms or a policy in which the state takes action to economic recovery through investments. They were debated using the example of Spain during the 2007-12 crisis. Viewed in the European horizon, that is, adding the influence of the European Central Bank, the Commission and other institutions, a mix of both was noted.
“We should talk more often about economic issues.” “Somehow I perceive what is happening. Now I understand some things better.” This was the feedback from two participants.
Lublin/Poland: The University of Economics WSEI invited to an event on 23rd June 2022 to make the project and its results known to a wider public in Lublin. The two university lecturers Dr Marcin Marczuk and Prof. Tomasz Wołowiec presented the project and the content of the courses they had written on “Europe: Competition or Cooperation?” and “Migration: Economic and Social Effects in Europe“.
Artur Grzesiak then demonstrated the interactive and didactic parts of both courses. He followed by presenting the other courses of the European colleagues. Mr. Grzesiak emphasised that the content of the learning platform was designed for students, adults of different age groups as well as adult educators. The courses may contribute to making economic topics as well as non-formal methods more often the subject of adult education.
In the exchange with the speakers, the participants made special reference to the contribution to migration. The reason for this is topical. Since the war, many people from Ukraine have come to Poland. The question of economic and social effects is thus not an abstract one, but arises concretely in the city where one lives.
14th June 2022: The Peipsi Centre for Transboundary Cooperation in Tartu / Estonia organised a discussion on questions of an environmentally sustainable economy today and in the future. The 40 participants – students as well as adult educators – were introduced to the two contributions that a staff member of the organisation had prepared for the project’s learning platform. One is the course on “Public Goods and Social Welfare“. The other was a course on “Economic Growth and Sustainable Development“.
On the second topic, a debate ensued about “green” growth: does this approach offer an opportunity or is it more of a pitfall? Is it an illusion to strive for a green-capitalist economy? Does it have a future at all? Or is it the only sensible way forward? If so, how do we get there? What needs to change for this to happen? Can the concept of development help? What does “sustainable development” mean? What accents are set by the different economic schools on this topic? The exchange made it clear that these questions about the future are of great concern to young people in particular.
The second part of the event was dedicated to the further courses of the learning platform. The presentations were especially addressed to adult educators. They should be encouraged to include economic issues more in their educational activities.
“It is great that such projects exist”, “The platform offers a lot of material”.
What is the role of adult economic literacy with a global justice perspective when working on the cultural impacts of forced migration?
Partner organisation Financial Justice Ireland, based in Dublin, Ireland co-hosted a seminar/workshop on 23rd July and a smaller second event on 27th July to present and promote the learning platform for adult and community educators.
Some of the questions we looked at included: What are the connections between tax avoidance by multinational corporations and migration? Why is it important to understand the issue of sovereign debt and debt crises in the Global North and South when working towards economic and social justice in community contexts? How can adult and community educators working on issues of migration and community integration incorporate economic and financial justice issues into their work? How does the learning platform function? What is the structure and where are the activity guides for educators/facilitators?
In relation to the themes covered, participants were surprised to see so many connections being made across the issues of tax, debt, forced migration and cultural heritage. Regarding the learning platform more generally, there was a lot of interest expressed in exploring the platform further and using it as a way of breaking down accessibility barriers to incorporating economics and finance issues into adult and community education work.
The transition to a green economy not only requires idealism and initiative but also data; Estonia’s Rohetiiger (Green Tiger) collaboration platform is seeking to boost the development of green economy and among other plans, the platform wants to develop a system for data-driven assessment of products’ environmental footprint. More information: https://estonianworld.com/knowledge/a-green-revolution-in-the-economy-is-possible-thanks-to-data/
From May to July 2022, events on socio-economic education take place in seven European cities, in Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Tartu, Lublin, Dublin and Barcelona, to present the learning platform for socio-economic education in Europe.
The colleagues of the participating partner organisations introduce to the platform to a local audience, discuss several course topics with the participants, and apply methods they have learned from their partners during the cooperation. The aim is to empower adult educators to include socio-economic issues in their educational work. The aim is also that citizens find inspirations and engage with social and economic issues. The courses may support them in developing their own, reflected judgement on relevant and current topics. This follows the conviction that the ideas of all people are needed to explore democratic solutions to the various crises and challenges in Europe and worldwide.
How to face the current economic challenges and inequalities?
The partner organisation AVITEUM, based in Prague / Czech Republic, hosted a seminar on 22nd June 2022 to present the learning platform and stimulate an exchange on economic challenges. The programme included these questions: How does the economy affect our lives? Do women and men have different positions in the labour market? What is feminist economics and how can it contribute to reducing inequalities? How can we inform ourselves about economic issues? What practical tools are available to us for this? Which ones are offered by the learning platform? Finally, how can we tackle the current economic challenges?
In this way, the Czech colleagues took up aspects that they had worked on themselves (Feminist Economics, Women’s Economic Empowerment). At the same time, they integrated questions on which colleagues from the partner organisations had developed courses and presented them to a broad audience for discussion.
Participants articulated a high appreciation for the thematic diversity that is evident through the learning platform. They also indicated that more educational materials were needed on how to use savings to avoid loss of value through inflation. Similarly, readiness to acquire digital skills and critical thinking should be promoted. It was also suggested to include the issue of gender equality in companies and also to claim for new calls through the ESF programme accordingly.
As the event showed, reflecting on economic challenges can set a lot in motion…