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Monetary Policy Under Uncertainty: Practice Versus Theory


  • Rhys R. Mendes
  • Stephen Murchison
  • Carolyn A. Wilkins


For central banks, conducting policy in an environment of uncertainty is a daily fact of life. This uncertainty can take many forms, ranging from incomplete knowledge of the correct economic model and data to future economic and geopolitical events whose precise magnitudes and effects cannot be known with certainty. The objective of this paper is to summarize and compare the main results that have emerged in the literature on optimal monetary policy under uncertainty with actual central bank behaviour. To this end, three examples are studied in which uncertainty played a significant role in the Bank of Canada’s policy decision, to see how closely they align with the predictions from the literature. Three principles emerge from this analysis. First, some circumstances—such as when the policy rate is at risk of being constrained by the effective lower bound—should lead the central bank to be more pre-emptive in moving interest rates, whereas others can rationalize more of a wait-and-see approach. In the latter case, the key challenge is finding the right balance between waiting for additional information and not falling behind the curve. Second, the starting-point level of inflation can matter for how accommodative or restrictive policy is relative to the same situation without uncertainty, if there are thresholds in the central bank’s preferences associated with specific ranges for the target variable, such as the risk of inflation falling outside of the inflation control range. Third, policy decisions should be disciplined, where possible, by formal modelling and simulation exercises in order to support robustness and consistency in decision making over time. The paper concludes with a set of suggested areas for future research.

Suggested Citation

  • Rhys R. Mendes & Stephen Murchison & Carolyn A. Wilkins, 2017. "Monetary Policy Under Uncertainty: Practice Versus Theory," Discussion Papers 17-13, Bank of Canada.
  • Handle: RePEc:bca:bocadp:17-13

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ric Battellino & John Broadbent & Philip Lowe, 1997. "The Implementation of Monetary Policy in Australia," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp9703, Reserve Bank of Australia.
    2. al-Nowaihi, Ali & Livio Stracca, 2002. "Non-standard central bank loss functions, skewed risks, and the certainty equivalence principle," Royal Economic Society Annual Conference 2002 4, Royal Economic Society.
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    Cited by:

    1. Paulo R. Mota & Abel L. C. Fernandes, 2019. "The Dynamic Adjustment Of Central Banks’ Target Interest Rate: The Case Of The Ecb," FEP Working Papers 613, Universidade do Porto, Faculdade de Economia do Porto.
    2. Sharon Kozicki & Jill Vardy, 2017. "Communicating Uncertainty in Monetary Policy," Discussion Papers 17-14, Bank of Canada.

    More about this item


    Monetary Policy; Uncertainty and monetary policy;

    JEL classification:

    • E52 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Monetary Policy
    • E58 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Central Banks and Their Policies
    • E61 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Policy Objectives; Policy Designs and Consistency; Policy Coordination
    • E65 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Studies of Particular Policy Episodes

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