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In recent years, many central banks, the makers of monetary policy, have adopted a technique called inflation targeting to control the general rise in the price level. In this framework, a central bank estimates and makes public a projected, or “target,” inflation rate and then attempts to steer actual inflation toward that target, using such tools as interest rate changes. Because interest rates and inflation rates tend to move in opposite directions, the likely actions a central bank will take to raise or lower interest rates become more transparent under an inflation targeting policy. Advocates of inflation targeting think this leads to increased economic stability.

Why inflation targeting?

In general, a monetary policy framework provides a nominal anchor to the economy. A nominal anchor is a variable policymakers can use to tie down the price level. One nominal anchor central banks used in the past was a currency peg—which linked the value of the domestic currency to the value of the currency of a low-inflation country. But this approach meant that the country’s monetary policy was essentially that of the country to which it pegged, and it constrained the central bank’s ability to respond to such shocks as changes in the terms of trade (the value of a country’s exports relative to that of its imports) or changes in the real interest rate. As a result, many countries began to adopt flexible exchange rates, which forced them to find a new anchor.

Many central banks then began targeting the growth of money supply to control inflation. This approach works if the central bank can control the money supply reasonably well and if money growth is stably related to inflation over time. Ultimately, monetary targeting had limited success because the demand for money became unstable—often because of innovations in the financial markets. As a result, many countries with flexible exchange rates began to target inflation more directly, based on their understanding of the links or “transmission mechanism” from the central bank’s policy instruments (such as interest rates) to inflation.

How does inflation targeting work?

Inflation targeting is straightforward, at least in theory. The central bank forecasts the future path of inflation and compares it with the target inflation rate (the rate the government believes is appropriate for the economy). The difference between the forecast and the target determines how much monetary policy has to be adjusted. Some countries have chosen inflation targets with symmetrical ranges around a midpoint, while others have identified only a target rate or an upper limit to inflation. Most countries have set their inflation targets in the low single digits. A major advantage of inflation targeting is that it combines elements of both “rules” and “discretion” in monetary policy. This “constrained discretion” framework combines two distinct elements: a precise numerical target for inflation in the medium term and a response to economic shocks in the short term.

Rather than focusing on achieving the target at all times, the approach has emphasized achieving the target over the medium term—typically over a two- to three-year horizon. This allows policy to address other objectives—such as smoothing output—over the short term. Thus, inflation targeting provides a rule-like framework within which the central bank has the discretion to react to shocks. Because of inflation targeting’s medium-term focus, policymakers need not feel compelled to do whatever it takes to meet targets on a period-by-period basis.

What is required?

Inflation targeting requires two things. The first is a central bank able to conduct monetary policy with some degree of independence. No central bank can be entirely independent of government influence, but it must be free in choosing the instruments to achieve the rate of inflation that the government deems appropriate. Fiscal policy considerations cannot dictate monetary policy. The second requirement is the willingness and ability of the monetary authorities not to target other indicators, such as wages, the level of employment, or the exchange rate.

Having satisfied these two basic requirements, a country can, in theory, conduct a monetary policy centered on inflation targeting. In practice, the authorities may also take certain preliminary steps:

•Establish explicit quantitative targets for inflation for a specific number of periods ahead.

•Indicate clearly and unambiguously to the public that hitting the inflation target takes precedence over all other objectives of monetary policy.

•Set up a model or methodology for inflation forecasting that uses a number of indicators containing information about future inflation.

•Devise a forward-looking operating procedure through which monetary policy instruments are adjusted (in line with the assessment of future inflation) to hit the chosen target.

Target practitioners?

Central banks from advanced, emerging market, and developing economies and from every continent have adopted inflation targeting (see table). Full-fledged inflation targeters are countries that make an explicit commitment to meet a specified inflation rate or range within a specified time frame, regularly announce their targets to the public, and have institutional arrangements to ensure that the central bank is accountable for meeting the target.

The first country to adopt inflation targeting was New Zealand. 

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