What Remains of Monetarism?

R.W. Hafer
Economic Review, Vol. 86, No. 4, 2001

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In October 1979 the Federal Reserve, in an attempt to curb double-digit inflation, announced that it would place more weight on monetary aggregates in policy deliberations. This policy shift helped reduce inflation but sent the economy into a recession. Three years later the Fed abandoned monetary targets and returned to targeting the federal funds rate.

Monetary growth targets currently play no official role in the setting of U.S. monetary policy. Is such disregard justified by the data any more today than it was twenty years ago? This article provides a historical perspective on the development and apparent failure of monetarism as a policy guide.

The author also explores whether the basic monetarist propositions still hold true for a sample of fifteen countries. The analysis suggests that it is premature to dismiss monetary aggregates as uninformative. The data from the economies studied indicate that, in general, nominal income growth and inflation are positively related to money growth. While these results do not support short-term manipulation of the monetary aggregates to deliver precise control over movements in income and prices, they also do not reject the notion that changes in money growth have important long-term effects on the economy. What the results suggest, therefore, is that failure to acknowledge this empirical fact could lead to undesirable policy consequences.

November 2001