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How independent should a central bank be?

Listed author(s):
  • Guy Debelle
  • Stanley Fischer

The case for an independent central bank is becoming increasingly accepted. This new orthodoxy is based on three foundations: the success of the Bundesbank and the German economy over the past forty years; the theoretical academic literature on the inflationary bias of discretionary policy-making; and the empirical academic literature on central bank independence (CBI). The purpose of this paper is to examine each of the three legs of the argument for increased CBI. ; First we examine the empirical evidence on the relationship between CBI and economic performance. In this context, we compare the German experience with that in the US and conclude that there is indeed a tradeoff between price and output stability. We also examine the sacrifice ratios in recent disinflations and show that sacrifice ratios are positively correlated with CBI. ; Second we present a theoretical model which allows us to consider the optimal degree of inflation aversion of the central bank. We show that society will be better off if the central bank precommits to an inflation rate, provided the fiscal authority is reasonably well behaved. We tie these conclusions to the literature on optimal incentive contracts for central banks. ; Finally we make the distinction between goal independence and instrument independence for the central bank. Given that a tradeoff exists between output and inflation variability, the tradeoff should not be left to the central bank, that is it should not have goal independence. Rather the goals for the central bank should be clearly specified, so that the central bank then can be accountable for achieving these goals. However, it should be free in its choice of means to achieve these goals.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in its series Working Papers in Applied Economic Theory with number 94-05.

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Date of creation: 1994
Publication status: Published in Conference on Monetary Policy in a Low Inflation Regime
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfap:94-05
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  1. Cukierman, Alex & Webb, Steven B & Neyapti, Bilin, 1992. "Measuring the Independence of Central Banks and Its Effect on Policy Outcomes," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 6(3), pages 353-398, September.
  2. Layard, Richard & Nickell, Stephen & Jackman, Richard, 2005. "Unemployment: Macroeconomic Performance and the Labour Market," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199279173.
  3. Laurence Ball, 1994. "What Determines the Sacrifice Ratio?," NBER Chapters, in: Monetary Policy, pages 155-193 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Alberto Alesina, 1988. "Macroeconomics and Politics," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1988, Volume 3, pages 13-62 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Steve Dawe, 1990. "Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Bulletin, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, vol. 53, march.
  6. Laurence Ball & N. Gregory Mankiw & David Romer, 1988. "The New Keynsesian Economics and the Output-Inflation Trade-off," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(1), pages 1-82.
  7. 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 1-10, December.
  8. 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.
  9. Lohmann, Susanne, 1992. "Optimal Commitment in Monetary Policy: Credibility versus Flexibility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 273-286, March.
  10. Havrilesky, Thomas & Granato, James, 1993. "Determinants of Inflationary Performance: Corporatist Structures vs. Central Bank Autonomy," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 76(3), pages 249-261, July.
  11. Robert J. Barro & David B. Gordon, 1981. "A Positive Theory of Monetary Policy in a Natural-Rate Model," NBER Working Papers 0807, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1973. "Some International Evidence on Output-Inflation Tradeoffs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(3), pages 326-334, June.
  13. Alesina, Alberto & Tabellini, Guido, 1987. "Rules and Discretion with Noncoordinated Monetary and Fiscal Policies," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 25(4), pages 619-630, October.
  14. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1977. "Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 473-491, June.
  15. 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 151-162, May.
  16. Kenneth Rogoff, 1985. "The Optimal Degree of Commitment to an Intermediate Monetary Target," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(4), pages 1169-1189.
  17. Fischer, Stanley, 1980. "Dynamic inconsistency, cooperation and the benevolent dissembling government," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 93-107, May.
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