Monetary policy

Monetary policy is the financial policy of managing the money supply to achieve specific goals—such as reducing inflation or achieving full employment or more well-being. Almost always, special institutions (like the European Central Bank or the Federal Reserve) exist which have the task of maintaining the monetary policy of a country or transnational entity, independently of government. In general, these institutions are called Central banks and typically serve a role of supervising the smooth operation of the financial system as well as monetary policy. Globally, the Bank for International Settlements plays a role in standardizing policy and also informally called the central bank for the central banks, though it sets no monetary policy of its own.

The primary tool of monetary policy is usually a short term interest rate. In the case of the US for example, the Federal Reserve targets the Fed Funds rate, the rate at which member banks lend to one another overnight. Monetary policy is also often expressed by the central bank trying to target or manipulate the exchange rate with major trading partners.

Trends in Central Banking

In the 1980s, bankers began to become convinced that a central bank independent of the rest of government is the best way to ensure an optimal monetary policy, and those central banks which did not have independence began to gain it. This is to avoid overt manipulation of the tools of monetary policies to effect political goals, re-electing the current government for example. Independence typically means that the members of the committee which conducts monetary policy have long, fixed terms. Obviously, this is a somewhat limited independence. Independence has not stunted a thriving crop of conspiracy theories about the true motives of a given action of monetary policy.

In the 1990s banks began adopting formal, public inflation targets. The goal of which is to make the outcomes, if not the process, of monetary policy more transparent. That is, a central bank may have an inflation target of 2% for a given year, if inflation turns out to be 5%, then the central bank will typically have to submit an explanation. The Bank of England exemplifies both these trends. It became independent of government in 1996(?) and also adopted an inflation target in 1998(??).

Currency Boards

A currency board is a central bank whose monetary policy is a special case. In this case, the country has decided to base its currency off another, larger currency. Typically this happens after a long, unsuccessful fight against inflation. The currency board in question will no longer issue fiat money but instead will only issue one unit of local currency for each unit of foreign currency it has in its vault. The virtue of this system is that questions of currency stability no longer apply. The drawback is that the country no longer has the ability to set monetary policy according to other domestic considerations.

A gold standard is a special case of a currency board where the value of the national currency is linked to the value of gold instead of a foreign currency.

Monetary reform movements seek to alter the mechanisms used in such policy.

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