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Rules versus discretion at the Federal Reserve System: On to the second century

  • Friedman, Benjamin M.
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    Much of the experience of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, during the institution’s first hundred years, has revolved around controversies that fit squarely within the classical debate over rules versus discretion in economic policymaking. This paper looks back at the major episodes in this history since World War II, including the initial freeing of monetary policy from war-related interest-pegging, the Federal Reserve’s delayed but ultimately successful response to the inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, the brief experiment with monetary aggregate targets, the extraordinary actions prompted by the 2007-9 financial crisis, and the current tentative exploration of inflation targeting. The paper concludes that the tension between the desire for rule-based policymaking and the practicalities that lead central bankers to preserve discretion in actual policy decisions does not admit of any easy, straightforward solution, and therefore that this tension is likely to persist into the Federal Reserve’s next century too.

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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Macroeconomics.

    Volume (Year): 34 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 3 ()
    Pages: 608-615

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:jmacro:v:34:y:2012:i:3:p:608-615
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622617

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    1. Barro, Robert J. & Gordon, David B., 1983. "Rules, discretion and reputation in a model of monetary policy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 101-121.
    2. Charles Goodhart, 1988. "The Evolution of Central Banks," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262570734, June.
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    4. Rogoff, Kenneth, 1985. "The Optimal Degree of Commitment to an Intermediate Monetary Target," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 100(4), pages 1169-89, November.
    5. Tobin, James, 1983. "Monetary Policy: Rules, Targets, and Shocks," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 15(4), pages 506-18, November.
    6. Vasco Cúrdia & Michael Woodford, 2008. "Credit frictions and optimal monetary policy," Working Paper Research 146, National Bank of Belgium.
    7. Taylor, John B., 1993. "Discretion versus policy rules in practice," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 195-214, December.
    8. Bagehot, Walter, 1873. "Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number bagehot1873.
    9. Benjamin M. Friedman, 2004. "Why the Federal Reserve Should Not Adopt Inflation Targeting," International Finance, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 7(1), pages 129-136, 03.
    10. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1977. "Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 473-91, June.
    11. Grossi, Michele & Tamborini, Roberto, 2011. "Stock prices and monetary policy: Re-examining the issue in a New Keynesian model with endogenous investment," Economics Discussion Papers 2011-54, Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
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