In the mid- 1970s, as policymakers and social scientists began to perceive the duration, pervasiveness, and depth of that decade's worldwide inflation, the Brookings Institution organized several conferences of international experts to investigate its causes. This volume stems from a 1978 conference that examined the political and social processes underlying the global acceleration of prices. The authors look at the pressures behind economic policy and outcomes. They consider such factors as the public commitment to the welfare state, party competition for electoral support, the connections among large trade unions, industrial leaders, and government officials, and the changing international economic power of the industrial nations. Their contributions furnish a wealth of comparative information and illustrate new approaches to understanding inflation. Several authors also raise the important issue of how political and social factors can be integrated with the traditional "economic causes" of inflation in an interdisciplinary approach.
The study is necessarily retrospective. Though inflation is still serious in Latin America and Israel, in Europe and North America it has receded and become less variable and more publicly tolerable than during the surges of the 1970s. Nonetheless, the economic difficulties of the 1970s represented the most severe problems since World War II for the nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Moreover, inflation has been slowed only at great cost in terms of employment and output. Many problems still linger, especially the dilemmas of industrial restructuring and the political framework that allowed inflation to develop such a head of steam in the first place. Thus, though the volume is a historical analysis that attempts to measure the fundamental causes for a decade of economic anguish, it also provides a foundation that can be used in examining current policy choices.