Tag: monetary rules

The history of macroeconomic thought has been one of lively debate between different schools.

First there is debate between those who favour active government intervention (Keynesians) to manage aggregate demand and those who favour a rules-based approach of targeting some variable, such as the money supply (as advocated by monetarists) or the rate of inflation (as pursued by many central banks), or a hybrid rule, such as a Taylor rule that takes into account a weighted target of inflation and real output growth.

Second there is debate about the relative effectiveness of monetary and fiscal policy. Monetarists argue that monetary policy is relatively effective in determining aggregate demand, which in turn affects output in the short run but only prices in the long run. Keynesians argue that monetary policy can be weak in the short run if the economy is in recession. Quantitative easing may simply be accompanied by a decline in the velocity of circulation. It’s not enough to make more money available and keep interest rates close to zero; people must have the confidence to borrow and spend. Keynesians argue that in these circumstances fiscal policy is more effective.

Third there is the debate about the size of the state and the extent of government borrowing. Libertarians, following the views of economists such as Hayek, argue that reducing the size of the state and reducing government borrowing will create a more dynamic economy, where the private sector will expand to take up the slack created by a reduction in the size of the public sector. Their approach to policy involves a mixture of cutting deficits and market-orientated supply-side policy. Economists on the left, by contrast, argue that economic growth is best stimulated in the short term by increases in government spending and that supply-side policy needs to be interventionist, with the government investing in infrastructure, research and development, education and health. Such growth policies, they argue can be targeted on the poor and help to arrest the growing inequality in society.

These debates have been given added impetus by the global financial crisis in 2008 and the subsequent recession, slow recovery and possibility of a slide back into recession. The initial response of governments and central banks was to stimulate aggregate demand. Through combinations of expansionary fiscal policy, interest rates cut to virtually zero and programmes of quantitative easing, the world seemed set on a course for recovery. But one result of the policies was a massive expansion in government deficits and debt. This led to increasing criticisms from the right, and a move away from expansionary to austerity fiscal policies in order to contain debts that were increasingly being seen as unsustainable. And all the while the debates have raged.

The following podcast and articles look at the debates and how they have evolved. The picture painted is a more subtle and nuanced one than a stark ‘Keynes versus Hayek’, or ‘Keynesians versus monetarists’.

Keynes v Hayek: The debate continues BBC Today Programme, Nicholas Wapshott and Paul Ormerod (23/12/11)

Von Hayek Revisited – Warts and All CounterPunch, David Warsh (26/12/11)
Fed up with Bernanke Reuters, Nicholas Wapshott (20/12/11)
Paul Krugman Versus Milton Friedman Seeking Alpha, ‘Shareholders Unite’ (6/12/11)
Keynes Was Right New York Times, Paul Krugman (29/12/11)
Keynes, Krugman, and Austerity National Review Online, William Voegeli (3/1/12)
The Madness of Lord Keynes The American Spectator, Samuel Gregg (19/12/11)
Central Bankers vs. Natural Stock Market Cycles in 2012 The Market Oracle, David Knox Barker (28/12/11)
Now is the time to eat, drink and be merry Financial Times, Samuel Brittan (29/12/11)


  1. To what extent is quantitative easing consistent with (a) Keynesian and (b) monetarist approaches to macroeconomic policy?
  2. What is meant by the ‘liquidity trap’ and what are its implications for monetary policy? Have we witnessed a liquidity trap since the beginning of 2009?
  3. What are the arguments for and against an independent central bank?
  4. Explain Milton Friedman’s assertion ‘that it was the Fed’s failure in 1930 to pursue “open market operations” on the scale needed that deepened the slump’.
  5. What are the implications of growing government deficits and debt for policies to avoid a slide back into recession?

This podcast is from the Library of Economics and Liberty’s EconTalk site. In it, Scott Sumner of Bentley University discusses with host Russ Roberts the role of monetary policy in the USA since 2007 and whether or not it was as expansionary as many people think.

In fact, Sumner argues that monetary policy was tight in late 2008 and that this precipitated the recession. He argues that the standard indicators of the tightness or ease of monetary policy, namely the rate of interest and the growth in the money supply, were misleading.

Sumner on Monetary Policy EconTalk podcast (9/11/09)


  1. Why is it important to look at the velocity of circulation of money when deciding the effect of interest rate changes or changes in the monetary base? Can the Fed’s failure to take velocity sufficiently into account be seen as a cause of the recession?
  2. Is there evidence of a liquidity trap operating in the USA in late 2008?
  3. How could the Fed have pursued a more expansionary policy, given that interest rates were eventually cut to virtually zero and the monetary base was expanded substantially?
  4. Why does Sumner argue that monetary policy should focus on influencing the growth in aggregate demand?
  5. How useful is the quantity equation, MV = PT (or MV = PY) in understanding the role and effectiveness of monetary policy?
  6. What is the Keynesian approach to monetary policy in a recession? How does this differ from the monetarist approach? Are both approaches focusing on the demand side and thus quite different from supply-side analysis of recession?
  7. Why is the consumer prices index (CPI) a poor indicator of a nominal shock to the economy? Should the central bank focus on nominal GDP, rather than CPI, as an indicator of the state of the economy and as a guide to the stance of monetary policy?
  8. What are the strengths and weaknesses of using a Taylor rule as a guide to monetary policy? Would nominal GDP futures be a better target for monetary policy?

The article below by William Keegan is a discussion of a recent seminar he attended on ‘Black Wednesday and the rebirth of the British economy’. The seminar led him to consider whether policy makers should be guided mainly by rules or discretion in the development of policy. Many would argue that we have moved away from discretion and moved more towards fiscal and monetary rules for the implementation of policy, but the article discusses the extent to which this may be true.

When the going gets rough, can our rulers rely on the rule book? Observer (18/11/07)


1. Explain, using examples as appropriate, the difference between policies based on fiscal and monetary rules and discretion.
2. Explain how the MPC “largely ignores the cumulative dangers of a high exchange rate” in its determination of interest rates for the UK economy.
3. Discuss how effective the adoption of an inflation target has been in management of the British economy in the past decade.