Rethinking monetary policy targets

Should the object of monetary policy be simply one of keeping inflation within a target range? In a speech given on 9 October, the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, questioned whether the interest-rate setting policy of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has been too narrow.

He considered whether interest rates should have been higher before the financial crisis and crash of 2007–9. This could have helped to reduce the asset price bubble and discouraged people from taking out excessive loans.

But then there is the question of the exchange rate. Would higher interest rates have pushed the exchange rate even higher, with damaging effects on exports? Today the trade weighted exchange rate is some 20% lower than before the crash. The government hopes that this will encourage a growth in exports and help to fuel recovery in demand. But as Dr King said, “The strategy of reducing domestic spending and relying more on external demand is facing a real problem because not everyone can do it at the same time.”

Then there is the question of economic growth. Should a target rate of growth be part of the MPC’s target? Should the MPC adopt a form of Taylor rule which targets a weighted average of the inflation rate and the rate of economic growth?

Certainly monetary policy today in the UK and many other countries is very different from five years ago. With interest rates being close to zero, there is little scope for further reductions; after all, nominal rates cannot fall below zero, otherwise people would be paid for borrowing money! So the focus has shifted to the supply of money. Several attempts have been made to control the money supply through programmes of quantitative easing. Indeed many economists expect further rounds of quantitative easing in the coming months unless there is a substantial pick up in aggregate demand.

So what should be the targets of monetary policy? The following articles look at Dr King’s speech and at various alternatives to a simple inflation target.

Mervyn King says must face up to monetary policy’s limits’ Reuters, David Milliken and Sven Egenter (9/10/12)
Bank of England’s Mervyn King defends low interest rates pre-crisis The Telegraph, Emma Rowley (9/10/12)
Banks should have had a leverage cap before crash, says Mervyn King The Guardian, Heather Stewart and Phillip Inman (9/10/12)
King Says BOE Must Keep Targeting Inflation as Tool Revamp Looms Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Svenja O’Donnell (9/10/12)
After 20 years, time to change Merv’s medicine? Channel 4 News blogs, Faisal Silam (9/10/12)
King signals inflation not primary focus Financial Times, Norma Cohen and Sarah O’Connor (9/10/12)
Should Bank start the helicopter? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (12/10/12)

Twenty years of inflation targeting Bank of England speeches, Mervyn King (9/10/12)


  1. What are the arguments for using monetary policy to target a particular rate of inflation?
  2. Would it ever be a good idea to adjust the targeted rate of inflation up or down and if so when and why?
  3. Explain how a Taylor rule would work and in what ways it is superior or inferior to pursuing a simple inflation target.
  4. Are attempts to control the money supply through quantitative easing (or tightening) consistent or inconsistent with pursuing an inflation target? Explain.
  5. What are the arguments for and against abandoning targeting in monetary policy and replacing it with discretionary policy that takes a number of different macroeconomic indicators into account?