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Optimal Commitment in an Open Economy: Credibility vs. Flexibility

  • Sylvester Eijffinger
  • Eric Schaling

The theoretical argument for central bank independence is based on the idea that even if the government represents people's preferences over inflation and output it has an incentive to renege from prearranged plans to gain a short run boost to output. This incentive leads to higher than desired inflation. One solution to this credibility problem is to give control of monetary policy to an independent central bank that is more averse to inflation than society. Central bank independence thus reduces society's credibility problem but this may be at the expense of less flexible countercyclical monetary policy. The aim of this paper is to find the correct balance between credibility and flexibility, ie the optimal degree of central bank independence. The first part of the paper sets out an open economy model and identifies some macroeconomic factors that influence the optimal degree of independence. It finds that the optimal degree of independence increases when; 1) the NAIRU is higher, 2) the benefits of unanticipated inflation are greater, 3) society is less inflation-averse, 4) productivity shocks have smaller variance, 5) the real exchange rate has less variability, 6) the economy is less open. The second part of the paper estimates the relationship between these six factors and measures of central bank independence for 19 industrial countries using a latent variables estimation technique. It finds that, in general, the actual degree of independence is related to these six factors and so the institutional arrangements in most countries are close to the optimum. The main exceptions are Germany and Switzerland - that seem to have an excessively high degree of independence - and Australia, Norway, Sweden and the UK - which have a lower than optimal degree of independence.

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Paper provided by Bank of England in its series Bank of England working papers with number 41.

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Date of creation: Dec 1995
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Handle: RePEc:boe:boeewp:41
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  1. Eijffinger, S.C.W. & van Keulen, M., 1994. "Central bank independence in another eleven countries," Discussion Paper 1994-94, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  2. Layard, Richard & Nickell, Stephen & Jackman, Richard, 2005. "Unemployment: Macroeconomic Performance and the Labour Market," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199279173, March.
  3. Eijffinger, S.C.W., 1993. "Central bank independence in twelve industrial countries," Other publications TiSEM 0401b17a-e2c7-4179-ace9-a, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  4. 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.
  5. Eijffinger, S.C.W. & Schaling, E., 1993. "Central bank independence : Theory and evidence (Revised version)," Discussion Paper 1993-25, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  6. Romer, David, 1993. "Openness and Inflation: Theory and Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(4), pages 869-903, November.
  7. Gray, Jo Anna, 1976. "Wage indexation: A macroeconomic approach," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(2), pages 221-235, April.
  8. Barro, Robert J & Gordon, David B, 1983. "A Positive Theory of Monetary Policy in a Natural Rate Model," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(4), pages 589-610, August.
  9. Manfred Neumann, 1991. "Precommitment by central bank independence," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 2(2), pages 95-112, June.
  10. Dornbusch, Rudiger, 1976. "Expectations and Exchange Rate Dynamics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(6), pages 1161-76, December.
  11. Alesina, Alberto & Summers, Lawrence H, 1993. "Central Bank Independence and Macroeconomic Performance: Some Comparative Evidence," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 25(2), pages 151-62, May.
  12. 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.
  13. Cukierman Alex, 1992. "Central Bank Strategy, Credibility, And Independance: Theory And Evidence," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 3(4), pages 10, December.
  14. Lohmann, Susanne, 1992. "Optimal Commitment in Monetary Policy: Credibility versus Flexibility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 273-86, March.
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