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Political constraints on monetary policy during the Great Inflation


  • Weise, Charles L


The U.S. Great Inflation of the 1970s was characterized by repeated, failed attempts at disinflation by the Federal Reserve as well as periods of inaction despite rising inflation. Previous research has attributed these failures to policymakers’ “misperceptions” about monetary policy and the macroeconomy. This paper argues instead that the Fed’s behavior during this period can be explained as a response to political constraints. Members of the Fed understood that a serious attempt to tackle inflation would be unpopular with the public and would generate opposition from Congress and the Executive branch. The result was a commitment to the policy of gradualism, under which the Fed would attempt to reduce inflation with mild policies that would not trigger an outright recession, and premature abandonment of anti-inflation policies at the first sign of recession. The Fed managed to disinflate successfully under Chairman Volcker only when the political constraints on Fed policy were lifted after 1979, allowing the Fed to abandon the policy of gradualism and knowingly take actions that risked recession. Evidence for this explanation of Fed behavior is found in Minutes and Transcripts of FOMC meetings and speeches of Fed chairmen.

Suggested Citation

  • Weise, Charles L, 2008. "Political constraints on monetary policy during the Great Inflation," MPRA Paper 8694, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:8694

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Orphanides, Athanasios & Williams, John C., 2005. "The decline of activist stabilization policy: Natural rate misperceptions, learning, and expectations," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 29(11), pages 1927-1950, November.
    2. Christina D. Romer & David Romer, 2002. "The evolution of economic understanding and postwar stabilization policy," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 11-78.
    3. Athanasios Orphanides, 2002. "Monetary-Policy Rules and the Great Inflation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 115-120, May.
    4. Orphanides, Athanasios, 2003. "Historical monetary policy analysis and the Taylor rule," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(5), pages 983-1022, July.
    5. Allan H. Meltzer, 2005. "Origins of the Great Inflation," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Mar, pages 145-176.
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    Cited by:

    1. Di Maggio, Marco, 2010. "The Political Economy of the Yield Curve," MPRA Paper 20697, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Singleton,John, 2010. "Central Banking in the Twentieth Century," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521899093, May.
    3. Pittaluga, Giovanni Battista & Seghezza, Elena, 2012. "The Great Inflation in Italy: A Political Economy View - La Grande Inflazione in Italia: un’interpretazione alla luce della political economy," Economia Internazionale / International Economics, Camera di Commercio Industria Artigianato Agricoltura di Genova, vol. 65(1), pages 65-81.
    4. Andrew Levin & John B. Taylor, 2010. "Falling Behind the Curve: A Positive Analysis of Stop-Start Monetary Policies and the Great Inflation," NBER Working Papers 15630, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    Great Inflation; monetary policy; Federal Reserve;

    JEL classification:

    • E58 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Central Banks and Their Policies
    • E50 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - General

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