New currencies in the Former Soviet Union: a recipe for hyperinflation or the path to price stability
This paper describes the break-up of the rouble zone after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and the opportunities and risks involved in establishing separate currencies in the new republics of the FSU. Fundamental disagreements about the desirable pace of economic reform, together with the need for radical changes in the pattern of economic activity, greatly weakened the case for retention of a single currency. Also, by mid-1993, the reformers in Russia had realised that continued use of the rouble by the republics weakened the authorities' ability to control monetary developments. The introduction of new currencies in countries lacking experience of economic policy making is bound to be a messy and uncertain process. The paper discusses the policy choices involved, in particular the appropriate exchange rate regime and the possible role for a currency board as a way of giving monetary policy credibility at an early stage in the transition. It concludes that bringing the fiscal position under control should be the first aim of policy for these countries. In the absence of bond markets deficits will tend to be money financed and the choice of exchange rate regime, by itself, is probably of second-order importance. The paper concludes with seven case studies, including the Baltic States and the Ukraine. When the paper was written, some republics had inflation rates of 25% a month or more, and there seemed little prospect of a rapid fall. In fact performance has generally been rather better than then seemed likely. The main reasons for this seem to have been the absence of a 'flight-from-money' typical of Latin-American hyperinflation. Fiscal deficits have been kept under reasonable control, probably as a result of external pressure.
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