Inflation can happen if the money supply grows faster than the economic output under otherwise normal economic circumstances. Inflation, or the rate at which the average price of goods or serves increases over time, can also be affected by factors beyond money supply.

The theory most discussed when looking at the link between inflation and money supply is the quantity theory of money (QTM), but there are other theories that challenge it.

Quantity Theory

The quantity theory of money proposes that the exchange value of money is determined like any other good, with supply and demand. The basic equation for the quantity theory is called The Fisher Equation because it was developed by American economist Irving Fisher. In it's simplest form, it looks like this:(M)(V)=(P)(T)where:M=money supplyV=velocity of circulation (the number of times money changes hands)P=average price levelT=volume of transactions of goods and services\begin{aligned} &(M)(V)=(P)(T)\\ &\textbf{where:}\\ &M=\text{money supply}\\ &V=\text{velocity of circulation (the number of times money changes hands)}\\ &P=\text{average price level}\\ &T=\text{volume of transactions of goods and services}\\ \end{aligned}(M)(V)=(P)(T)where:M=money supplyV=velocity of circulation (the number of times money changes hands)P=average price levelT=volume of transactions of goods and services

Some variants of the quantity theory propose that inflation and deflation occur proportionately to increases or decreases in the supply of money. Empirical evidence has not demonstrated this, and most economists do not hold this view.

A more nuanced version of the quantity theory adds two caveats: 

  1. New money has to actually circulate in the economy to cause inflation.
  2. Inflation is relative—not absolute.

In other words, prices tend to be higher than they otherwise would have been if more dollar bills are involved in economic transactions.

Challenges to Quantity Theory

Keynesian and other non-monetarist economists reject orthodox interpretations of the quantity theory. Their definitions of inflation focus more on actual price increases, with or without money supply considerations.

According to Keynesian economists, inflation comes in two varieties: demand-pull and cost-push. Demand-pull inflation occurs when consumers demand goods, possibly because of a larger money supply, at a rate faster than production. Cost-push inflation occurs when the input prices for goods tend to rise, possibly because of a larger money supply, at a rate faster than consumer preferences change.