Rules, Discretion, and Central Bank Independence: The German Experience 1880-1989

Bernhard Eschweiler, Michael D. Bordo

NBER Working Paper No. 4547 (Also Reprint No. r2015)
Issued in November 1993
NBER Program(s):Monetary Economics

Theories of rules and discretion suggest that monetary policy rules are first best in terms of social welfare. However, if commitment is not feasible, delegating monetary policy to an independent and conservative central bank can be second best. Monetary policy in Germany during the past one hundred years provides an excellent case to assess the empirical evidence on the use of rules and central bank independence in monetary policy making. Since the creation of a central monetary authority in 1876, Germany has participated in four monetary regimes: the pre-war gold standard, the inter-war gold standard, the Bretton-Woods system, and the floating exchange rate regime. The bottom line of our analysis is that monetary policy in Germany was always geared toward maintaining price stability with the exception of the two world war periods. Germany relied both on rules and discretion with central bank independence to achieve the goal of price stability. A comparison of the Classical Gold Standard regime with the floating exchange rate regime suggests that society under the floating exchange rate regime with central bank independence was better off. However, this comparison ignores the historical difference in output shocks and the possibility that society became more inflation averse over time.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w4547

Published: Pierre Siklos, ed., Varieties of Monetary Reform: Lessons and Experience on the Road to Monetary Union. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994, pp. 279-321.

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