The inverse relationship between central banks’ credibility and the credibility of monetarism

A colleague of mine today said to me ”Lars, you must be happy that you can be a monetarist again”. (Yes, I am a Market Monetarists, but I consider that to be fully in line with fundamental monetarist thinking…)

So what did he mean? In the old days – prior to the Great Moderation monetarists would repeat Milton Friedman’s dictum that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” and suddenly by the end of the 1970s and 1980s people that started to listen. All around the world central banks put in place policies to slow money supply growth and thereby bring down inflation. In the policy worked and inflation indeed started to come down around the world in the early 1980.

Central banks were gaining credibility as “inflation fighters” and Friedman was proven right – inflation is indeed always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. However, then disaster stroke – not a disaster to the economy, but to the credibility of monetarism, which eventually led most central banks in the world to give up any focus on monetary aggregates. In fact it seemed like most central banks gave up any monetary analysis once inflation was brought under control. Even today most central banks seem oddly disinterested in monetary theory and monetary analysis.

The reason for the collapse of monetarist credibility was that the strong correlation, which was observed, between money supply growth and inflation (nominal GDP growth) in most of the post-World War II period broke down. Even when money supply growth accelerated inflation remained low. In time the relationship between money and inflation stopped being an issue and economic students around the world was told that yes, inflation is monetary phenomenon, but don’t think too much about it. Many young economists would learn think of the equation of exchange (MV=PY) some scepticism and as old superstition. In fact it is an identity in the same way as Y=C+I+G+X-M and there is no superstition or “old” theory in MV=PY.

Velocity became endogenous
To understand why the relationship between money supply growth and inflation (nominal GDP growth) broke down one has to take a look at the credibility of central banks.

But lets start out the equation of exchange (now in growth rates):

(1) m+v=p+y

Once central bankers had won credibility about ensure a certain low inflation rate (for example 2%) then the causality in (1) changed dramatically.

It used to be so that the m accelerated then it would fast be visible in higher p and y, while v was relatively constant. However, with central banks committed not to try to increase GDP growth (y) and ensuring low inflation – then it was given that central banks more or less started to target NGDP growth (p+y).

So with a credible central that always will deliver a fixed level of NGDP growth then the right hand side of (1) is fixed. Hence, any shock to m would be counteracted by a “shock” in the opposite direction to velocity (v). (This is by the way the same outcome that most theoretical models for a Free Banking system predict velocity would react in a world of a totally privatised money supply.) David Beckworth has some great graphs on the relationship between m and v in the US before and during the Great Moderation.

Assume that we have an implicit NGDP growth path target of 5%. Then with no growth in velocity then the money supply should also grow by 5% to ensure this. However, lets say that for some reason the money supply grow by 10%, but the “public” knows that the central bank will correct monetary policy in the following period to bring back down money to get NGDP back on the 5% growth path then money demand will adjust so that NGDP “automatically” is pushed back on trend.

So if the money supply growth “too fast” it will not impact the long-term expectation for NGDP as forward-looking economic agents know that the central bank will adjust monetary policy to bring if NGDP back on its 5% growth path.

So with a fixed NGDP growth path velocity becomes endogenous and any overshoot/undershoot in money supply growth is counteracted by a counter move in velocity, which ensures that NGDP is kept on the expected growth path. This in fact mean that the central banks really does not have to bother much about temporary “misses” on money supply growth as the market will ensure changes in velocity so that NGDP is brought back on trend. This, however, also means that the correlation between money and NGDP (and inflation) breaks down.

Hence, the collapse of the relation between money and NGDP (and inflation) is a direct consequence of the increased credibility of central banks around the world.

Hence, as central banks gained credibility monetarists lost it. However, since the outbreak of the Great Recession central banks have lost their credibility and there are indeed signs that the correlation between money supply growth and NGDP growth is re-emerging.

So yes, I am happy that people are again beginning to listen to monetarists (now in a improved version of Market Monetarism) – it is just sad that the reason once again like in the 1970s is the failure of central banks.

Milton Friedman on exchange rates #4

Always floating exchange rates?

The theoretical literature often distinguishes between completely fixed exchange rates on the one hand and freely floating exchange rates on the other. Milton Friedman has pointed out, however, that this sharp distinction often does not apply to the exchange rate regimes that are used in practice. As well as the two “extremes” (completely freely floating exchange rates in which the central bank never intervenes, and a firmly fixed exchange rate with no fluctuations allowed), a common system is to have fixed but adjustable exchange rates – or rather exchange rate bands. The Danish krone, for example, can swing freely within a band of +/- 2¼% around the “fixed” euro exchange rate of 7.44 kr. per euro.

The three global majors, the US dollar, the Japanese yen and the European euro do float freely against each other – as do a number of smaller currencies, such as the Swedish krona, the British pound, the Korean won and the New Zealand dollar. However, even such in principle freely floating exchange rates do not prevent the central banks of these countries from being active in the FX markets from time to time.

A system with fully fixed exchange rates is in practice the same as a monetary union and involves the complete abolition of any form of monetary independence. One example is Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority is obliged at all times to exchange US dollars for a fixed amount of Hong Kong dollars (7.8 Hong Kong dollars per US dollar). This means in essence that Hong Kong is in a monetary union with the USA – the only difference is that Hong Kong has its own banknotes. A second example is the European Monetary Union, where all members have given up monetary independence and left all monetary policy decisions to the European Central Bank.

An example of a system with fixed but adjustable exchange rates is the European fixed exchange rate mechanism, the EMS. Members of the EMS pursued a mutual fixed exchange rate policy – or more correctly, exchange rates were allowed to float within a narrow band and the various central banks were obliged to ensure (via for example changes in interest rates or intervention in the FX market) that they remained there. Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania currently follow a fixed exchange rate policy within the framework of a similar system, ERMII.

According to Friedman, however, a system of fixed but adjustable exchange rates is the worst of all worlds. Such a system means that the country abandons the option of an independent exchange rate policy. However, at times the need to use the exchange rate policy for “domestic purposes” – for example to tackle an asymmetric shock – will be irresistible, and the country will then either have to adjust exchange rates (devalue or revalue), or completely abandon the fixed exchange rate policy. This will, meanwhile, cause uncertainty in the FX market about just how “fixed” the policy is in reality. Thus a system with fixed but adjustable exchange rates will always be a potential “target” for speculative attack: one has so to speak closed the door, but not locked it. In a monetary union with irrevocably fixed currencies one has, in contrast, closed the door, locked it and thrown away the key – there is simply no doubt about how solid the fixed exchange rate policy is and thus speculation in exchange rate movements will therefore cease.

Hence for Friedman the choice is between either a freely floating exchange rate or some form of monetary union. Friedman has over the years presented the criteria by which to choose between the two exchange rate regimes. Basically there are six criteria that a small country (A) should consider when deciding its exchange rate policy in relation to the “rest of the world” (country B):

1.     How important is foreign trade for the economy of country A?

2.     How flexible are wages and prices in country A?

3.     How mobile is labour across national borders?

4.     How mobile is capital?

5.     How good is monetary policy in country A and the “rest of the world”?

6.     How are political relations between country A and the “rest of the world” ?

These criteria in fact define what in modern economics literature is termed an optimal currency area[1]. If there are close trade ties, high wage and price flexibility, and high capital and labour mobility between country A and the “rest of the world”, there is, according to Friedman, no reason why the two countries should not form a monetary union with a common currency.

Friedman stresses, however, that a country should not abandon its monetary policy independence to another country if that country is expected to pursue a poorer monetary policy than the first country itself would have done. Friedman places greatest emphasis on this criterion.

Despite Milton Friedman typically – and rightly – being labelled as the standard bearer for floating exchange rates, he often stresses that the choice is not easy, and he has repeatedly emphasised that countries have achieved both good and bad results with fixed and floating exchange rates. He points out for example that in 1985 Israel successfully implemented a fixed exchange rate policy against the dollar that helped cut inflation without causing any negative long-term economic repercussions.

By way of contrast, Chile implemented a fixed exchange rate policy against the dollar in 1976. Results were good for the first year following the implementation. However, when US monetary policy was seriously tightened between 1980 and 1982, causing the dollar to surge, monetary policy in Chile also had to be tightened: Chile suffered a serious economic setback, and in 1982 it abandoned its fixed exchange rate policy.

Friedman used the two cases above to underline that identical exchange rate policies can lead to different results. The outcome of the fixed exchange rate policy depends on how “lucky” one is with regard to the monetary policy in the country whose currency one has fixed to. Israel was lucky to introduce a fixed exchange rate policy at a time when monetary policy was relatively accommodative in the USA, while Chile was unlucky to fix just before US monetary policy had to be vigorously tightened. Or as Friedman says:

“Never underestimate the role of luck in the fate of individuals or of nations.”[2]


[1] The theory on optimal currency areas can be traced in particular back to Robert Mundell, see eg, Mundell, R. A., “A Theory of Optimal Currency Areas”, American Economic Review, Vol. 51, No. 4, September 1961, pp 657-665.

[2]”Money Mischief”, page 241.


“Ben Volcker” and the monetary transmission mechanism

I am increasingly realising that a key problem in the Market Monetarist arguments for NGDP level targeting is that we have not been very clear in our arguments concerning how it would actually work.

We argue that we should target a certain level for NGDP and then it seems like we just expect it too happen more or less by itself. Yes, we argue that the central bank should control the money base to achieve this target and this could done with the use of NGDP futures. However, I still think that we need to be even clearer on this point.

Therefore, we really need a Market Monetarist theory of the monetary transmission mechanism. In this post I will try to sketch such a theory.

Combining “old monetarist” insights with rational expectations

The historical debate between “old” keynesians and “old” monetarists played out in the late 1960s and the 1970s basically was centre around the IS/LM model.

The debate about the IS/LM model was both empirical and theoretical. On the hand keynesians and monetarists where debating the how large the interest rate elasticity was of money and investments respectively. Hence, it was more or less a debate about the slope of the IS and LM curves. In much of especially Milton Friedman writings he seems to accept the overall IS/LM framework. This is something that really frustrates me with much of Friedman’s work on the transmission mechanism and other monetarists also criticized Friedman for this. Particularly Karl Brunner and Allan Meltzer were critical of “Friedman’s monetary framework” and for his “compromises” with the keynesians on the IS/LM model.

Brunner and Meltzer instead suggested an alternative to the IS/LM model. In my view Brunner and Meltzer provides numerous important insights to the monetary transmission mechanism, but it often becomes unduly complicated in my view as their points really are relatively simple and straight forward.

At the core of the Brunner-Meltzer critique of the IS/LM model is that there only are two assets in the IS/LM model – basically money and bonds and if more assets are included in the model such as equities and real estate then the conclusions drawn from the model will be drastically different from the standard IS/LM model. It is especially notable that the “liquidity trap” argument breaks down totally when more than two assets are included in the model. This obviously also is key to the Market Monetarist arguments against the existence of the liquidity trap.

This mean that monetary policy not only works via the bond market (in fact the money market). In fact we could easily imagine a theoretical world where interest rates did not exist and monetary policy would work perfectly well. Imagining a IS/LM model where we have two assets. Money and equities. In such a world an increase in the money supply would push up the prices of equities. This would reduce the funding costs of companies and hence increase investments. At the same time it would increase holdholds wealth (if they hold equities in their portfolio) and this would increase private consumption. In this world monetary policy works perfectly well and the there is no problem with a “zero lower bound” on interest rates. Throw in the real estate market and a foreign exchange markets and then you have two more “channels” by which monetary policy works.

Hence, the Market Monetarist perspective on monetary policy the following dictum holds:

“Monetary policy works through many channels”

Keynesians are still obsessed about interest rates

Fast forward to the debate today. New Keynesians have mostly accepted that there are ways out of the liquidity trap and the work of for example Lars E. O. Svensson is key. However, when one reads New Keynesian research today one will realise that New Keynesians are as obsessed with interest rates as the key channel for the transmission of monetary policy as the old keynesians were. What has changed is that New Keynesians believe that we can get around the liquidity trap by playing around with expectations. Old Keynesians assumed that economic agents had backward looking or static expectations while New Keynesians assume rational expectations – hence, forward-looking expectations.

Hence, New Keynesians still see interest rates at being at the core of monetary policy making. This is as problematic as it was 30 years ago. Yes, it is fine that New Keynesian acknowledges that agents are forward-looking but it is highly problematic that they maintain the narrow focus on interest rates.

In the New Keynesian model monetary policy works by increasing inflation expectation that pushes down real interest rates, which spurs private consumption and investments. Market Monetarists certainly do think this is one of many channels by which monetary policy work, but it is clearly not the most important channel.

Rules are at the centre of the transmission mechanism

Market Monetarist stresses the importance of monetary policy rules and how that impacts agents expectations and hence the monetary transmission mechanism. Hence, we are more focused on the forward-looking nature or monetary policy than the “old” monetarists were. In that regard we are similar to the New Keynesians.

It exactly because of our acceptance of rational expectations that we are so obsessed about NGDP level targeting. Therefore when we discuss the monetary policy transmission mechanism it is key whether we are in world with no credible rule in place or whether we are in a world of a credible monetary policy rule. Below I will discussion both.

From no credibility to a credible NGDP level target

Lets assume that the economy is in “bad equilibrium”. For some reason money velocity has collapsed, which continues to put downward pressures on inflation and growth and therefore on NGDP. Then enters a new credible central bank governor and he announces the following:

“I will ensure that a “good equilibrium” is re-established. That means that I will ‘print’ whatever amount of money is needed so to make up for the drop in velocity we have seen. I will not stop the expansion of the money base before market participants again forecasts nominal GDP to have returned to it’s old trend path. Thereafter I will conduct monetary policy in such a fashion so NGDP is maintained on a 5% growth path.”

Lets assume that this new central bank governor is credible and market participants believe him. Lets call him Ben Volcker.

By issuing this statement the credible Ben Volcker will likely set in motion the following process:

1) Consumers who have been hoarding cash because they where expecting no and very slow growth in the nominal income will immediately reduce there holding of cash and increase private consumption.
2) Companies that have been hoarding cash will start investing – there is no reason to hoard cash when the economy will be growing again.
3) Banks will realise that there is no reason to continue aggressive deleveraging and they will expect much better returns on lending out money to companies and households. It certainly no longer will be paying off to put money into reserves with the central bank. Lending growth will accelerate as the “money multiplier” increases sharply.
4) Investors in the stock market knows that in the long run stock prices track nominal GDP so a promise of a sharp increase in NGDP will make stocks much more attractive. Furthermore, with a 5% path growth rule for NGDP investors will expect a much less volatile earnings and dividend flow from companies. That will reduce the “risk premium” on equities, which further will push up stock prices. With higher stock prices companies will invest more and consumers will consume more.
5) The promise of loser monetary policy also means that the supply of money will increase relative to the demand for money. This effectively will lead to a sharp sell-off in the country’s currency. This obviously will improve the competitiveness of the country and spark export growth.

These are five channels and I did not mention interest rates yet…and there is a reason for that. Interest rates will INCREASE and so will bond yields as market participant start to price in higher inflation in the transition period in which we go from a “bad equilibrium” to a “good equilibrium”.

Hence, there is no reason for the New Keynesian interest rate “fetish” – we got at least five other more powerful channels by which monetary policy works.

Monetary transmission mechanism with a credible NGDP level target

Ben Volcker has now with his announcement brought back the economy to a “good equilibrium”. In the process he might have needed initially to increase the money base to convince economic agents that he meant business. However, once credibility is established concerning the new NGDP level target rule Ben Volcker just needs to look serious and credible and then expectations and the market will take care of the rest.

Imagine the following situation. A positive shock increase the velocity of money and with a fixed money supply this pushed NGDP above it target path. What happens?

1) Consumers realise that Ben Volcker will tighten monetary policy and slow NGDP growth. With the expectation of lower income growth consumers tighten their belts and private consumption growth slows.
2) Investors also see NGDP growth slowing so they scale back investments.
3) With the outlook for slower growth in NGDP banks scale back their lending and increase their reserves.
4) Stock prices start to drop as expectations for earnings growth is scaled back (remember NGDP growth and earnings growth is strongly correlated). This slows private consumption growth and investment growth.
5) With expectations of a tightening of monetary conditions players in the currency market send the currency strong. This led to a worsening of the country’s competitiveness and to weaker export growth.
6) Interest rates and bond yields DROP on the expectations of tighter monetary policy.

All this happens without Ben Volcker doing anything with the money base. He is just sitting around repeating his dogma: “The central bank will control the money base in such a fashion that economic agents away expect NGDP to grow along the 5% path we already have announced.” By now he might as well been replaced by a computer…

…..

Recommended reading on the “old” monetarist transmission mechanism

Milton Friedman: “Milton Friedman’s Monetary Framework: A Debate with His Critics”
Karl Brunner and Allan Meltzer: “Money and the Economy: Issues in Monetary Analysis”

For a similar discussion to mine with special focus on the Paradox of Thrieft see the following posts from some of our Market Monetarist friends:

Josh Hendrickson
David Beckworth
Bill Woolsey
Nick Rowe

And finally from Scott Sumner on the differences between New Keynesian and Market Monetarist thinking.

—-

Update: Scott Sumner has a interesting comment on central banking “language” and “interest rates”.

Daylight saving time and NGDP targeting

Today I got up one hour later than normal. The reason is the same as for most other Europeans this morning – the last Sunday of October – we move our clocks back one hour due to the end of Daylight saving time (summertime).

That reminded me of Milton Friedman’s so-called Daylight saving argument for floating exchange rates. According to Friedman, the argument in favour of flexible exchange rates is in many ways the same as that for summer time. Instead of changing the clocks to summer time, everyone could instead “just” change their behaviour: meet an hour later at work, change programme times on the TV, let buses and trains run an hour later, etc. The reason we do not do this is precisely because it is easier and more practical to put clocks an hour forward than to change everyone’s behaviour at the same time. It is the same with exchange rates, one can either change countless prices or change just one – the exchange rate.

There is a similar argument in favour of NGDP level targeting. Lets illustrate it with the equation of exchange.

M*V=P*Y

P*Y is of course the same as NGDP the equation of exchange can also be written as

M*V=NGDP

What Market Monetarists are arguing is that if we hold NGDP constant (or it grows along a constant path) then any shock to velocity (V) should be counteracted by an increase or decrease in the money supply (M).

Obviously one could just keep M constant, but then any shock to V would feed directly through to NGDP, but NGDP is not “one number” – it is in fact made up of countless goods and prices. So an “accommodated” shock to V in fact necessitates changing numerous prices (and volumes for the matter). By having a NGDP level target the money supply will do the adjusting instead and no prices would have to change. Monetary policy would therefore by construction be neutral – as it would not influence relative prices and volumes in the economy.

So when you (re)read Friedman’s “The Case for Floating Exchange Rates” then try think instead of “The Case for NGDP Level Targeting” – it is really the same story.

See my posts on Friedman’s arguments for floating exchange rates:

Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #1
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #2
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #3

“Chinese Silver Standard Economy and the 1929 Great Depression”

Only two major countries – China and Spain – were not on the Gold Standard at the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. As a consequence both countries avoided the most negative consequences of the Great Depression. That is a forcefully demonstration of how the “wrong” exchange rate regimes can mean disaster, but also a reminder of Milton Friedman’s dictum never to underestimate the importance of luck.

I have recently found this interesting paper by

Cheng-chung Lai and Joshua Jr-shiang Gau on the “Chinese Silver Standard Economy  and the 1929 Great Depression”. Here is the abstract for you:

“It is often said that the silver standard had insulated the Chinese economy from the Great Depression that prevailed in the gold standard countries during the 1929-35 period. Using econometric testing and counterfactual simulations, we show that if China had been on the gold standard (or on the gold-exchange standard), the balance of trade of this semi-closed economy would have been ameliorated, but the general price level would have declined significantly. Due to limited statistics, two important factors (the GDP and industrial production level) are not included in the analysis, but the general argument that the silver standard was a lifeboat to the Chinese economy remains defensible.”

If anybody has knowledge of research on Spanish monetary policy during the Great Depression I would be very interested hearing from you (lacsen@gmail.com).

PS Today I have received Douglas Irwin’s latest book “Trade Policy Disaster: Lessons From the 1930s” in the mail. I look forward to reading it and sharing the conclusions with my readers. But I already know a bit about the conclusion: Countries that stayed longer on the Gold Standard were more protectionist than countries with more flexible exchange rate regimes. This fits with Milton Friedman’s views – see here and here.

Milton Friedman on Exchange rate policy #2

“The Case for Flexible Exchange Rates”

I 1950 Milton Friedman was attached to the US Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), which was charged with overseeing the implementation of the Marshall plan.

The ECA wanted to see a common European market and therefore a liberalisation of intra-European trade and a breaking down of customs barriers between the European countries. Most European nations were, however, sceptical of the idea, as they feared it would lead to problematic balance of payments deficits – and thus pressure on the fixed exchange rate policy.

Once again the political dynamics of the fixed exchange rate system were stoking protectionist tendencies. This was an important theme in the memorandum that Milton Friedman wrote to the ECA on the structure of exchange rate policy in Europe. This memorandum, “Flexible Exchange Rates as a Solution to the German Exchange Crisis”, formed the foundation for his now classic article from 1953, “The Case for Flexible Exchange Rates”, in which he presented his arguments for floating exchange rates. The main arguments are presented below.

Friedman’s basic argument against fixed exchange rate policies is fundamentally political. He pointed out that the combination of inflexible wages and prices and a fixed exchange rate policy would lead to imbalances in the economy – such as balance of payments deficits. Friedman feared – and as in the Canadian example above also observed – that politicians would attempt to “solve” these problems through widespread regulation of the economy in the form of trade restrictions and price and wage controls – precisely what Friedman wanted at all costs to avoid.

When prices and wages are very flexible, imbalances can be corrected relatively painlessly via wage and price adjustments. Thus there would be no great need for changes in exchange rates. In the real world, however, wages and prices are not fully flexible, says Friedman, and so imbalances can arise when pursuing a fixed exchange rate policy. Sooner or later these imbalances will put pressure on the fixed exchange rate system.

According to Friedman there are two ways to solve this problem: either regulating the movement of capital and goods across international borders or allowing currencies to float freely. There is of course a third option – make prices and wages more flexible. However, this would require significant reforms, and Friedman is doubtful that politicians would choose this route – even though he might constantly argue for such reforms.

Thus for Friedman there are in reality just two options, and he is in no doubt that flexible exchange rates are by far preferable to further regulation and protectionism.

Friedman acknowledges that adjustment to a “shock” to the economy (for example a jump in oil prices) can happen via pricing. However, he states that prices are typically not fully flexible – in part due to various forms of government regulation – and that an adjustment of the exchange rate will therefore be much less painful.

Friedman illustrates this with the so-called Daylight-Saving-Time argument. According to Friedman, the argument in favour of flexible exchange rates is in many ways the same as that for summer time. Instead of changing the clocks to summer time, everyone could instead “just” change their behaviour: meet an hour later at work, change programme times on the TV, let buses and trains run an hour later, etc. The reason we do not do this is precisely because it is easier and more practical to put clocks an hour forward than to change everyone’s behaviour at the same time. It is the same with exchange rates, one can either change countless prices or change just one – the exchange rate.

According to Friedman, a further advantage of flexible exchange rates is that adjustments to economic shocks can be continual and gradual. This is in stark contrast to fixed exchange rates. Here, all adjustments have to take place via changes in prices and wages, and as prices and wages are sluggish movers, the adjustment process will be slow. This implies that the country will still at some point be forced to adjust its exchange rate (devalue or revalue), and these adjustments will typically be much greater than the continual adjustments that occur in a flexible exchange rate system, as imbalances will grow larger in a fixed exchange rate system than in a flexible exchange rate system.

Read on: Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #3

See also my post: “Milton Friedman on Exchange rate policy #1”

The Tintin of NGDP targeting

Have a look at Tintin explaining NGDP targeting here.

HT Marcus Nunes.

Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #1

There is no doubt that Milton Friedman is my favourite economist (sorry Scott, you are only number two on the list). In the coming days I will share my interpretation of Friedman’s view of exchange rate policy.

Friedman’s contributions to both economic theory and the public debate have had considerable influence on the organisation of the global financial system and the choice of currency regimes around the world. This can best be illustrated by looking at the history of global financial and currency developments.

Prior to the First World War the international currency system was based on the gold standard. Individual national currencies had a particular gold value and could therefore be exchanged at a specified and fixed exchange rate. Thus the gold standard was a fixed exchange rate system. The First World War, however, led to this system breaking down – mainly as a result of the warring nations cancelling the gold convertibility of their bank notes: They financed their military expenses by printing money. This subsequently created a level of inflation that was incompatible with the gold standard.

Attempts were made to reintroduce the gold standard after the First World War, but the Great Depression of the 1930s, among other things, made this difficult. Nevertheless, the idea of fixed exchange rates still enjoyed significant political support, and there was broad agreement among economists that some form or other of fixed exchange rate policy was desirable. Hence a further attempt was made after the Second World War, and in 1944 the so-called Bretton Woods system was established, named after the US town where the agreement was made to set up a fixed exchange rate system.

The Bretton Woods agreement meant that the US dollar was pegged at a fixed rate to the price of gold, while the other participating currencies (the majority of global currencies) could be traded at a fixed rate to the dollar, thus once again establishing a global fixed exchange rate system. The system, which finally broke down in 1971 when the USA decided to abandon the dollar’s fixed peg to gold, was in many ways the main reason for Friedman’s huge involvement in the currency issue – both from an economic theory and from a political perspective. Friedman was an outspoken critic of the Bretton Woods system right from its creation to its final demise in 1971, and he supplied much of the theoretical ammunition that President Nixon used to justify his decision to “close the gold window”.

Friedman made his first major mark on the international currency system in 1948, when on 18 April he took part in a radio debate with the deputy governor of the Canadian central bank, Donald Gordon, discussing among other things Canada’s fixed exchange rate policy.

In 1948 Canada was pursuing a fixed exchange rate policy within the framework of the Bretton Woods system. However, the policy had given rise to a number of problems – including increasing inflation – and the government and central bank were considering major intervention in the Canadian economy in an attempt to maintain the fixed exchange rate. Among the proposals was one to significantly curb imports to Canada. So it would seem that the desire to maintain a fixed exchange rate policy was leading directly to protectionism. Since the 1940s this political connection has formed one of Friedman’s key arguments against a fixed exchange rate policy.

While the Canadian government attempted to defend its fixed exchange rate policy with protectionism and wage and price controls, Friedman’s approach was completely different: abandon the fixed exchange rate policy and let the currency float freely. Gordon rejected Friedman’s prescription for Canada’s ills, but 18 months later, in September 1950, the country’s finance minister, Douglas Abbott, decided to take Friedman’s medicine, announcing:

“Today the Government … cancelled the official rates of exchange. . . . Instead, rates of exchange will be determined by conditions of supply and demand for foreign currencies in Canada.”
(Quoted from Schembri, Lawrence, “Revisiting the Case for Flexible Exchange Rates”, Bank of Canada, November 2000).

Friedman could chalk up his first major victory in the currency debate – while the next was to come in 1971 when Bretton Woods was abandoned. In the intervening years Friedman made a huge contribution to changing how currencies and exchange rates are viewed in economic theory.

First Wikipedia, now Facebook

Recently Market Monetarism has shown up on Wikipedia – and so has “Nominal Income Target”. Now it seems the time has come to Facebook. Somebody has started a group on Facebook named “Nominal GDP level targeting”. Take a look at it.

Thank you Kelly Evans

Those who have followed the debate about NGDP in the US will know about the views of the Wall Street Journal. I steal this from Scott Sumner:

“I had not heard of Kelly Evans until a few days ago, when I ran across an anti-NGDP targeting piece that she wrote for the WSJ. I did a post that was very critical of the article. Lots of people might have taken that personally, but Evans came over here and engaged in a discussion with me and the other commenters. That showed class.

Now she has a new piece on NGDP targeting, which clearly shows that she’s done her homework. It’s very fair, presenting both sides of the debate.

I applaud her willingness to overlook the sometimes harsh tone of blogosphere debate, and engage with those of us who are working hard to change Fed policy.”

…I don’t have much to add other than I also want to thank Kelly Evans for taking the debate about NGDP targeting serious – and Kelly I will be happy to assist you on and off the record if you want to investigate this issue further.

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