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Beyond inflation targeting: should central banks target the price level?


  • George A. Kahn


Over the last two decades, many central banks have adopted formal inflation targets to guide the conduct of monetary policy. During this period, inflation has come down in many countries and been relatively stable by historical standards. This favorable performance to date, however, has not stopped economists and policymakers from considering other approaches to the conduct of policy. One idea that has gained considerable attention is price-level targeting. Under a price-level target, a central bank would adjust its policy instrument—typically a short-term interest rate—in an effort to achieve a pre-announced level of a particular price index over the medium term. In contrast, under an inflation target, a central bank tries to achieve a pre-announced rate of inflation—that is, the change in the price level—over the medium term. ; Kahn examines price-level targeting and discusses why policymakers may be reluctant to adopt such a strategy. Price-level targeting offers a number of potential benefits over inflation targeting. While inflation targets have helped stabilize inflation, the future level of prices remains uncertain. Price-level targets would by definition remove much of this uncertainty. Price-level targeting also has the advantage of potentially generating greater stability of both output and inflation. Particularly in the current low-inflation environment, where nominal policy rates have fallen near zero, price-level targeting may help support expectations of a positive inflation rate. These inflation expectations, in turn, would keep real interest rates negative, thereby stimulating interest-sensitive spending and contributing to economic recovery. ; Yet the benefits of price-level targeting may be relatively small and uncertain. In addition, this strategy is untested in practice (except for Sweden in the 1930s) and would present challenges for policymakers in communicating with the public regarding the objectives and direction of policy over the medium run. As a result, price level targeting will not likely be adopted by central bankers without considerable further research or a dramatic deterioration in economic performance that leads policymakers to fundamentally reconsider how they conduct monetary policy.

Suggested Citation

  • George A. Kahn, 2009. "Beyond inflation targeting: should central banks target the price level?," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Q III, pages 35-64.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedker:y:2009:i:qiii:p:35-64:n:v.94no.3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marie Diron & Benoît Mojon, 2008. "Are inflation targets good inflation forecasts?," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q II, pages 33-45.
    2. Oleksiy Kryvtsov & Malik Shukayev & Alexander Ueberfeldt, 2008. "Adopting Price-Level Targeting under Imperfect Credibility," Staff Working Papers 08-3, Bank of Canada.
    3. Wolman, Alexander L, 2005. "Real Implications of the Zero Bound on Nominal Interest Rates," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 37(2), pages 273-296, April.
    4. Nessen, Marianne & Vestin, David, 2005. "Average Inflation Targeting," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 37(5), pages 837-863, October.
    5. Lars E.O. Svensson, 2003. "Escaping from a Liquidity Trap and Deflation: The Foolproof Way and Others," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(4), pages 145-166, Fall.
    6. Robert Amano & Tom Carter & Don Coletti, 2009. "Next Steps for Canadian Monetary Policy," Bank of Canada Review, Bank of Canada, vol. 2009(Spring), pages 7-20.
    7. Berg, Claes & Jonung, Lars, 1999. "Pioneering price level targeting: The Swedish experience 1931-1937," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 525-551, June.
    8. David E. Lebow & Jeremy B. Rudd, 2003. "Measurement Error in the Consumer Price Index: Where Do We Stand?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 159-201, March.
    9. Batini, Nicoletta & Yates, Anthony, 2003. " Hybrid Inflation and Price-Level Targeting," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 35(3), pages 283-300, June.
    10. Vestin, David, 2006. "Price-level versus inflation targeting," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(7), pages 1361-1376, October.
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    1. Le péril des cibles nominales
      by ? in D'un champ l'autre on 2014-01-11 18:10:00


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    Cited by:

    1. Svensson, Lars E.O., 2010. "Inflation Targeting," Handbook of Monetary Economics,in: Benjamin M. Friedman & Michael Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Monetary Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 22, pages 1237-1302 Elsevier.
    2. Hatcher, Michael C., 2011. "Comparing inflation and price-level targeting: A comprehensive review of the literature," Cardiff Economics Working Papers E2011/22, Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, Economics Section.
    3. Richard C.K. Burdekin & Kris James Mitchener & Marc D. Weidenmier, 2012. "Irving Fisher and Price‐Level Targeting in Austria: Was Silver the Answer?," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 44(4), pages 733-750, June.
    4. Jalil, Andrew & Rua, Gisela, 2015. "Inflation Expectations and Recovery from the Depression in 1933: Evidence from the Narrative Record," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2015-29, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    5. Steven Ambler, 2014. "Price-Level Targeting: A Post-Mortem?," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 400, February.
    6. Julian A. Parra-Polania & Luisa F. Acuña-Roa, 2013. "Price-Level Targeting: an omelette that requires breaking some Inflation-Targeting eggs?," BORRADORES DE ECONOMIA 010984, BANCO DE LA REPÚBLICA.
    7. Eagle, David M., 2012. "Nominal GDP targeting for a speedier economic recovery," MPRA Paper 39821, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. repec:jes:wpaper:y:2012:v:4:p:809-823 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Svensson, Lars E O, 2013. "Some Lessons from Six Years of Practical Inflation Targeting," CEPR Discussion Papers 9756, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    10. Iulian Vasile Popescu, 2012. "Price-Level Targeting – A Viable Alternative To Inflation Targeting?," CES Working Papers, Centre for European Studies, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, vol. 4(4), pages 809-823, December.
    11. Jiri Bohm & Jan Filacek, 2012. "Price-Level Targeting–A Real Alternative to Inflation Targeting?," Czech Journal of Economics and Finance (Finance a uver), Charles University Prague, Faculty of Social Sciences, vol. 62(1), pages 2-26, February.
    12. Kiyutsevskaya, Anna & Narkevich, Sergei & Trunin, Pavel, 2016. "The Transformation of the Role and Tasks of the Central Bank (Monetary Authorities) in the Modern Economy," Working Papers 2136, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
    13. Carl E. Walsh, 2009. "Using monetary policy to stabilize economic activity," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 245-296.
    14. Svensson, Lars E.O., 2010. "Inflation Targeting," Handbook of Monetary Economics,in: Benjamin M. Friedman & Michael Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Monetary Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 22, pages 1237-1302 Elsevier.

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