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Political Constraints on Monetary Policy During the U.S. Great Inflation

Weise, Charles L. (2009): Political Constraints on Monetary Policy During the U.S. Great Inflation.

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Abstract

This paper argues that the Federal Reserve’s failure to control inflation during the 1970s was due to constraints imposed by the political environment. Members of the Fed understood that a serious attempt to tackle inflation would be unpopular with the public and would generate opposition from Congress and the Executive branch. The result was a commitment to the policy of gradualism, under which the Fed would attempt to reduce inflation with mild policies that would not trigger an outright recession, and premature abandonment of anti-inflation policies at the first sign of recession. Alternative explanations, in particular misperceptions of the natural rate of unemployment and misunderstandings of the nature of inflation, do not provide a complete explanation for Fed policy at key turning points during the Great Inflation. Evidence for this explanation of Fed behavior is found in Minutes and Transcripts of FOMC meetings and speeches of Fed chairmen. Empirical analysis verifies that references to the political environment at FOMC meetings are correlated with the stance of monetary policy during this period.

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