Monetary policy is associated with interest rates and availability of credit. Instruments of monetary policy have included short-term interest rates and bank reserves through the monetary base. For many centuries there were only two forms of monetary policy. Monetary policy was seen as an executive decision, and was generally in the hands of the authority with seigniorage, or the power to coin. With the advent of larger trading networks came the ability to set the price between gold and silver, and the price of the local currency to foreign currencies. This official price could be enforced by law, even if it varied from the market price.
Paper money called “jiaozi” originated from promissory notes in 7th century China. Jiaozi did not replace metallic currency, and were used alongside the copper coins. The successive Yuan Dynasty was the first government to use paper currency as the predominant circulating medium. In the later course of the dynasty, facing massive shortages of specie to fund war and their rule in China, they began printing paper money without restrictions, resulting in hyperinflation.
With the creation of the Bank of England in 1694, which acquired the responsibility to print notes and back them with gold, the idea of monetary policy as independent of executive action began to be established. The goal of monetary policy was to maintain the value of the coinage, print notes which would trade at par to specie, and prevent coins from leaving circulation. The establishment of central banks by industrializing nations was associated then with the desire to maintain the nation’s peg to the gold standard, and to trade in a narrow band with other gold-backed currencies. To accomplish this end, central banks as part of the gold standard began setting the interest rates that they charged, both their own borrowers, and other banks who required liquidity. The maintenance of a gold standard required almost monthly adjustments of interest rates.
During the 1870–1920 periods, the industrialized nations set up central banking systems, with one of the last being the Federal Reserve in 1913. By this point the role of the central bank as the “lender of last resort” was understood. It was also increasingly understood that interest rates had an effect on the entire economy, in no small part because of the marginal revolution in economics, which demonstrated how people would change a decision based on a change in the economic trade-offs.
Monetary policy is the process by which the government, central bank, or monetary authority of a country controls the supply of money, availability of money, and cost of money or rate of interest to attain a set of objectives oriented towards the growth and stability of the economy. Monetary theory provides insight into how to craft optimal monetary policy.
Monetary policy rests on the relationship between the rates of interest in an economy, that is the price at which money can be borrowed, and the total supply of money. Monetary policy uses a variety of tools to control one or both of these, to influence outcomes like economic growth, inflation, exchange rates with other currencies and unemployment. Where currency is under a monopoly of issuance, or where there is a regulated system of issuing currency through banks which are tied to a central bank, the monetary authority has the ability to alter the money supply and thus influence the interest rate (to achieve policy goals).
It is important for policymakers to make credible announcements. If private agents (consumers and firms) believe that policymakers are committed to lowering inflation, they will anticipate future prices to be lower than otherwise (how those expectations which are formed is an entirely different matter; compare for instance rational expectations with adaptive expectations). If an employee expects prices to be high in the future, he or she will draw up a wage contract with a high wage to match these prices. Hence, the expectation of lower wages is reflected in wage-setting behaviour between employees and employers (lower wages since prices are expected to be lower) and since wages are in fact lower there is no demand pull inflation because employees are receiving a smaller wage and there is no cost push inflation because employers are paying out less in wages.
Monetary policy, to a great extent, is the management of expectations. Monetary policy rests on the relationship between the rates of interest in an economy, that is, the price at which money can be borrowed, and the total supply of money. Monetary policy uses a variety of tools to control one or both of these, to influence outcomes like economic growth, inflation, exchange rates with other currencies and unemployment. Where currency is under a monopoly of issuance, or where there is a regulated system of issuing currency through banks which are tied to a central bank, the monetary authority has the ability to alter the money supply and thus influence the interest rate (to achieve policy goals). The beginning of monetary policy as such comes from the late 19th century, where it was used to maintain the gold standard.
A policy is referred to as contractionary if it reduces the size of the money supply or increases it only slowly, or if it raises the interest rate. An expansionary policy increases the size of the money supply more rapidly, or decreases the interest rate. Furthermore, monetary policies are described as follows: accommodative, if the interest rate set by the central monetary authority is intended to create economic growth; neutral, if it is intended neither to create growth nor combat inflation; or tight if intended to reduce inflation.
There are several monetary policy tools available to achieve these ends: increasing interest rates by fiat; reducing the monetary base; and increasing reserve requirements. All have the effect of contracting the money supply; and, if reversed, expand the money supply. Since the 1970s, monetary policy has generally been formed separately from fiscal policy. Even prior to the 1970s, the Bretton Woods system still ensured that most nations would form the two policies separately.
Within the vast majority of modern nations, special institutions (such as the Federal Reserve System in the United States, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, the People’s Bank of China, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the Reserve Bank of India, and the Bank of Japan) exist which have the task of executing the monetary policy and often independently of the executive. In general, these institutions are called central banks and often have other responsibilities such as supervising the smooth operation of the financial system.
The primary tool of monetary policy is open market operations. This entails managing the quantity of money in circulation through the buying and selling of various financial instruments, such as treasury bills, company bonds, or foreign currencies. All of these purchases or sales result in more or less base currency entering or leaving market circulation.
Usually, the short-term goal of open market operations is to achieve a specific short-term interest rate target. In other instances, monetary policy might instead entail the targeting of a specific exchange rate relative to some foreign currency or else relative to gold. For example, in the case of the USA the Federal Reserve targets the federal funds rate, the rate at which member banks lend to one another overnight; however, the monetary policy of China is to target the exchange rate between the Chinese renminbi and a basket of foreign currencies.