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The Trilemma in History:Tradeoffs among Exchange Rates, Monetary Policies,and Capital Mobility

  • Maurice Obstfeld
  • Jay C.Shambaugh
  • Alan M.Taylor

Recently, the political economy of macroeconomic policy choice has increasingly been guided by the simple prescriptions of the classic trilemma. For example, policymakers often speak of the hollowing out of exchange rate regimes in a world of unstoppable capital mobility; and policy autonomy and a fixed nominal anchor present an unpleasant dichotomy for emerging markets beset by the fear of floating. Yet the trilemma is not an uncontroversial maxim, and its empirical foundations deserve greater attention. Some authors (e.g., Calvo and Reinhart 2001, 2002) have argued that under the modern float there could be limited policy autonomy given the rapid international transmission of interest rate shocks; others (e.g., Bordo and Flandreau 2003) that even under the classical gold standard there actually was considerable policy autonomy given the gold point spread and the use of gold devices and other tricks. Such arguments turn the trilemma on its head. Resolving this debate is ultimately an empirical matter, where the broadest span of data should be scrutinized. Using new techniques to study the coherence of international interest rates at high frequency, in conjunction with an examination of capital mobility policies and a data-based classification of exchange rate regimes, we look at the empirical content of the trilemma based on consistent data over 130+ years. On the whole, the predictions of this influential adage are borne out by history.

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Paper provided by Netherlands Central Bank in its series DNB Staff Reports (discontinued) with number 94.

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Length: 42 pages
Date of creation: 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:dnb:staffs:94
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Web page: http://www.dnb.nl/en/

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  1. Paul R. Krugman, 1988. "Target Zones and Exchange Rate Dynamics," NBER Working Papers 2481, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Maurice Obstfeld & Alan M. Taylor, 1998. "The Great Depression as a Watershed: International Capital Mobility over the Long Run," NBER Chapters, in: The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century, pages 353-402 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2004. "The Modern History of Exchange Rate Arrangements: A Reinterpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 1-48, February.
  4. Frankel, Jeffrey & Schmukler, Sergio L. & Serven, Luis, 2004. "Global transmission of interest rates: monetary independence and currency regime," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 701-733, September.
  5. Maurice Obstfeld & Alan M. Taylor, 2003. "Globalization and Capital Markets," NBER Chapters, in: Globalization in Historical Perspective, pages 121-188 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Rose, Andrew K., 1996. "Explaining exchange rate volatility: an empirical analysis of 'the holy trinity' of monetary independence, fixed exchange rates, and capital mobility," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 15(6), pages 925-945, December.
  7. Granger, C. W. J. & Newbold, P., 1974. "Spurious regressions in econometrics," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 2(2), pages 111-120, July.
  8. Maurice Obstfeld & Kenneth Rogoff, 1995. "The Mirage of Fixed Exchange Rates," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(4), pages 73-96, Fall.
  9. Guillermo A. Calvo & Carmen M. Reinhart, 2000. "Fear of Floating," NBER Working Papers 7993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Serena Ng & Pierre Perron, 1997. "Lag Length Selection and the Construction of Unit Root Tests with Good Size and Power," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 369, Boston College Department of Economics, revised 01 Sep 2000.
  11. Larry D. Neal & Marc D. Weidenmier, 2003. "Crises in the Global Economy from Tulips to Today," NBER Chapters, in: Globalization in Historical Perspective, pages 473-514 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Svensson, Lars E. O., 1991. "The term structure of interest rate differentials in a target zone : Theory and Swedish data," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 87-116, August.
  13. Bordo, Michael D & Flandreau, Marc, 2001. "Core, Periphery, Exchange Rate Regimes and Globalization," CEPR Discussion Papers 3077, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  14. Peter C.B. Phillips, 1986. "Regression Theory for Near-Integrated Time Series," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 781R, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University, revised Jan 1987.
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  19. Jay C. Shambaugh, 2004. "The Effect of Fixed Exchange Rates on Monetary Policy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 300-351, February.
  20. Kenneth A. Froot & Maurice Obstfeld, 1989. "Stochastic Process Switching: Some Simple Solutions," NBER Working Papers 2998, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  23. Christopher M. Meissner, 2002. "A New World Order: Explaining the Emergence of the Classical Gold Standard," NBER Working Papers 9233, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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