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Unformatted text preview: 6 Kenneth N Kuttner A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting
in its Adolescence
Kenneth N Kuttner1 Abstract
The paper ﬁrst seeks to clarify the deﬁnition of inﬂation targeting (IT), comparing
ʻpracticalʼ versus ʻtheoreticalʼ deﬁnitions of the term, and how they relate to one
another. Second, the paper reviews the range of IT practice across the 20 or so
current inﬂation targeters and discusses the ways in which that practice has evolved
in the past 10–15 years. Third, it assesses the criticism that IT is insufﬁciently
ʻﬂexibleʼ, considering both what inﬂation-targeting central banks say they do, and
how they have responded in practice to output ﬂuctuations. At least for New Zealand,
the United Kingdom, Sweden and Canada, the implementation of IT appears to be
relatively ﬂexible – more so than one might suspect on the basis of many inﬂationtargetersʼ (ITers) rhetoric. 1. Introduction It is not every day that one gets to observe the diffusion and evolution of a new
monetary policy framework. However, the development, and subsequent spread, of
inﬂation targeting, beginning in the early 1990s, has created just such an opportunity.
Inﬂation-targeting central banks now number upwards of 20, and it seems likely
to become the monetary policy framework of choice for a wide range of countries,
displacing more problematic alternatives, such as money targeting or exchangerate-based frameworks.
The popularity of inﬂation targeting should not be too surprising. At the most
basic level, IT offers the possibility of a nominal anchor, free of the vagaries of the
foreign exchange market, and the often-capricious behaviour of monetary aggregates.
Many central banks have found IT to be a useful organising principle for focusing
research, disciplining policy discussions, and communicating policy actions to
the general public. And for a transition or emerging market economy, adopting
IT provides an opportunity for the central bank to clearly deﬁne its objectives and
delineate its responsibilities vis à vis other ofﬁcial policy institutions.
But IT, as a policy framework, is only 15 years old – quite young, compared with
other, more seasoned policy frameworks, and still very much in its adolescence.
Like many teenagers, IT is often misunderstood. And also like many teenagers, it
still has some issues it needs to work out.
1. I am indebted to Georgios Chortareas, Özer Karagedikli, and Anders Vredin for making their
respective central banksʼ historical forecast data available. Malcolm Edey, Christopher Kent,
Rick Mishkin, Tony Richards, and Lars Svensson provided a number of valuable comments and
suggestions. Ben Pierce assisted with the research. A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 7 Any developmental issues IT might have are certainly not caused by a lack of
attention. Following something of a lull, during which many macroeconomists
were preoccupied by Y2K, asset-price bubbles, and the ʻnew economyʼ, the pace
of research on inﬂation targeting appears to have accelerated in recent years with
a string of major conferences and the publication of a comprehensive book on the
topic (Truman 2003). Ironically, given its origins as a strategy to contain inﬂation,
some of the current wave of interest in IT may be attributable to deﬂation in Japan,
and the perceived threat of it in the United States. But whatever the cause, the recent
ﬂurry of research means that the already-large literature on IT has become truly vast.
This paper will therefore not even attempt to cover it in its entirety, choosing instead
to focus selectively on a few key misunderstandings and unresolved issues.
First, the paper takes on the deceptively simple question of how to deﬁne inﬂation
targeting, considering both the common, practically-minded deﬁnition – if a central
bank says it targets inﬂation, it is an inﬂation targeter – and a more theoreticallyminded deﬁnition in terms of a policy rule. Second, it describes the ways in which
the practice of inﬂation targeting has evolved over the past 15 years, concluding
that most inﬂation targetersʼ frameworks have remained relatively static. There has,
however, been something of a trend in recent years towards the publication of more
explicit, longer-horizon forecasts.
Third, the paper considers some common critiques of inﬂation targeting, focusing
primarily on the oft-heard charge (at least in the US) that IT is insufﬁciently ʻﬂexibleʼ.
Reviewing both central banksʼ published statements and the conduct of policy in
New Zealand, the UK, Sweden, and Canada, the paper concludes that IT is more
ﬂexible in practice than many inﬂation targetersʼ rhetoric would suggest. But this
ﬂexibility has yet to be seriously tested by persistent, adverse supply shocks. The
paper concludes with some thoughts on how inﬂation targeting is likely to evolve
in the future. 2. Deﬁning ʻInﬂation Targetingʼ Even after 15 years of inﬂation targeting, a certain amount of confusion persists
as to exactly how to deﬁne the term and which countries to classify as inﬂation
targeters. As Kohn (2003) remarked, ʻone difﬁculty in assessing whether the United
States has been practising inﬂation targeting is in deﬁning the termʼ. This section
reviews two alternative, but not mutually exclusive, ways to think about IT: the ﬁrst
is in terms of the observed characteristics of the policy framework, and the second
is in terms of an optimal (or otherwise) policy rule. 2.1 A practical deﬁnition of inﬂation targeting The easiest way to identify inﬂation targeters, of course, is by self-declaration:
if a central bank says it targets inﬂation, it is an ITer. The problem with this way
of deﬁning the term, however, is that a declared objective for inﬂation is neither a
necessary nor a sufﬁcient condition for qualifying as a bona ﬁde inﬂation targeter.
Some central banks have a target for inﬂation but lack some of the other features 8 Kenneth N Kuttner associated with inﬂation targeting; others insist they are not ITers, but nonetheless
possess most (or all) of the characteristics associated with other self-declared
inﬂation targeters. Thus, while self-declaration may be a good starting point, it is
surely not deﬁnitive.
As a result, practical deﬁnitions of inﬂation targeting have tended to emphasise a
number of key features associated with established inﬂation-targeting frameworks.
Based on the country experiences summarised in Bernanke et al (1999) and elsewhere,
there seems to be broad agreement that ʻrealʼ ITers all share, at least to some extent,
the following four characteristics:
• A stated commitment to price stability as a principal goal of monetary policy.
However, price stability need not be the only goal; many ITers acknowledge, to
varying degrees, a role for output stabilisation and other objectives. • An explicit numerical target for inﬂation. Often, but not always, a time span will
also be speciﬁed for returning to the target after any deviation. • A high degree of transparency with regard to monetary policy formulation. ITers
regularly publish extensive reports on economic conditions and the outlook for
inﬂation. Often, but not always, the reports include the central bankʼs forecasts
of inﬂation, GDP growth, and other macroeconomic variables. • Some mechanism for accountability. Often, failure to fulﬁl the inﬂation target
requires the central bank to take speciﬁc steps, such as publishing an explanation,
or submitting a letter to the government. A sensible deﬁnition of inﬂation targeting (or at least a reasonable algorithm for
distinguishing ITers from non-ITers) would be any monetary policy framework that
bore these four hallmarks.2
These criteria still leave a number of grey areas, however. The European Central
Bank (ECB), for example, has a numerical inﬂation objective; but because that
objective is still somewhat unclear, and because of a general lack of transparency
in its policy-making, the ECB is not generally considered an inﬂation targeter (see
Svensson 2000).3 On the other hand Switzerland, by most accounts, comes close
to satisfying all four criteria, and for that reason it often appears on lists of inﬂation
targeters – despite Swiss National Bank ofﬁcialsʼ insistence that it is not an ITer.4
The US Federal Reserve presents an even more difﬁcult taxonomic dilemma.
Kohn (2003), among others, has noted that the US Federal Reserve has successfully
achieved low and stable inﬂation, and seems to take price stability seriously as a
primary objective of monetary policy – a commitment that has been strengthened
2. Truman (2003) lists ʻtime horizon for reaching the targetʼ as a distinct criterion, but since a majority
of ITers leave this unspeciﬁed, I have consolidated this feature with the numerical target. Unlike
Truman, however, I include ʻtransparencyʼ and ʻaccountabilityʼ as distinct attributes.
3. On 8 May 2003, the ECBʼs governing council announced a change in the target from ʻbelow 2%ʼ
to below but ʻclose toʼ 2% – hardly a step forward in terms of clarity.
4. The Swiss National Bank maintains that because it omits any ʻescape clausesʼ, it has a tougher
commitment to price stability than that of most ITers. See Truman (2003, p 30). A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 9 over the past 16 years in a series of speeches by Federal Reserve Chairman
Alan Greenspan.5 This has prompted some to label the Fed a ʻcovertʼ (Mankiw 2002),
ʻimplicitʼ (Goodfriend 2003), or ʻeclecticʼ (Carare and Stone 2003) inﬂation targeter.6
And yet Kohn (2004) maintains that whatever it is that the Fed is doing, it is not
How does the Fed rate on the four criteria? It is true, as noted above, that the Fed
has repeatedly reafﬁrmed its commitment to the goal of price stability, even if that
commitment has not been formally codiﬁed. It does operate under a dual mandate,
but so do other inﬂation targeters – notably the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).
The Fed still lacks the sine qua non of IT, an explicit numerical inﬂation target,
however, and this alone might be enough to disqualify it.7 It also falls short of the
standards set by other ITers on other dimensions of transparency and accountability.8
The Federal Reserve does publish a Monetary Policy Report to the Congress twice
a year, which includes an extensive review of economic conditions and recent policy
actions. It even reports a crude twice-yearly projection consisting of the ʻrangeʼ and
ʻcentral tendencyʼ of Board membersʼ and Reserve Bank presidentsʼ inﬂation, GDP
and unemployment forecasts for the current year and, in the July report, for the year
ahead. But in the absence of an explicit assumption about monetary policy, such
forecasts are hard to interpret. And more importantly, there is no way to assess the
Fedʼs performance in meeting its objective since it has no clear objective. For these
reasons, the Federal Reserve is usually not included on lists of inﬂation targeters,
despite some superﬁcial similarities and its good inﬂation record. 2.2 Deﬁning inﬂation targeting as a ʻpolicy ruleʼ The practical deﬁnition of inﬂation targeting, summarised above, takes its cue
from the view articulated by Bernanke et al (1999) that IT is best described as a
monetary policy ʻframeworkʼ, rather than as a ʻruleʼ. More recently, however, there
have been efforts, spearheaded in large part by Lars Svensson (for example, Svensson
5. In what may be the ﬁrst of these pronouncements, Greenspan (1988) stated: ʻWe should not be
satisﬁed unless the U.S. economy is operating at high employment with a sustainable external
position and above all stable prices … By price stability, I mean a situation in which households
and businesses in making their saving and investment decisions can safely ignore the possibility
of sustained, generalized price increases or decreasesʼ [emphasis added].
6. Carare and Stone (2003) start from the premise that any central bank lacking an explicit exchange rate
or money-based nominal anchor is, by default, an inﬂation targeter. Those with a ʻclear commitmentʼ
to an inﬂation target – in practice, a declared IT framework – are classiﬁed as ʻfull-ﬂedgedʼ ITers.
Those without such a commitment, but possessing a certain degree of anti-inﬂationary credibility
are deemed ʻeclecticʼ ITers; the remainder are assumed to follow a policy of ʻIT liteʼ. Truman (2003)
dismisses the value of this classiﬁcation scheme, calling it ʻdressed-up self-declarationʼ.
7. Its behaviour in recent years seems to be consistent with an implicit target of roughly 2 per cent.
The Fed may have had a higher implicit inﬂation target prior to the 1990–91 recession, but reduced
its target as the inﬂation rate fell in an application of the principle of ʻopportunistic disinﬂationʼ.
8. It is worth making a distinction between transparency in policy formulation versus transparency
in implementation. The Federal Reserve has, of course, become much more transparent in the
implementation of policy, especially since the practice of announcing changes in the funds rate
target began in February 1994. 10 Kenneth N Kuttner 1997, 1999) to deﬁne IT in terms of a policy rule. However, the theoretical literature
has never meshed particularly well with the more practically- and institutionallyoriented approaches. Truman (2003), for example, observes that ʻinﬂation targeting
in practice involves both more and less thanʼ a reaction function. Surely this is partly
because inﬂation targeting as a policy framework predates the beginning of the
policy rules literature by several years; it is worth recalling that the ﬁrst six inﬂation
targeters adopted the framework before the appearance of Taylorʼs inﬂuential article
(Taylor 1993), and Svenssonʼs subsequent work relating IT to optimal policy rules
Clearly inﬂation targeting represents some sort of a rule, deﬁned broadly as a
guiding principle for formulating monetary policy. But what kind of a rule, exactly?
And does it matter?
One source of confusion that arises in relating the practice of IT to the rules
literature is, as noted by Kuttner (2004), that the word ʻruleʼ is itself used in so many
different ways. One useful distinction is between optimal and ad hoc rules – that is,
those based on an explicit optimisation problem, versus those that are not. Typically,
the objective function underlying any optimal rule is the conventional quadratic
∞ ( Et ∑ δ τ ⎡ π t + τ − π *
τ =0 ) 2 + λ xt2+ τ ⎤
⎦ (1) involving the output gap xt and the deviation of inﬂation from its target, πt – π*; the
parameter λ is the weight on output ﬂuctuations, relative to inﬂation deviations.
Another distinction is between targeting and instrument rules – that is, whether
the rule is speciﬁed entirely in terms of the targets of monetary policy (inﬂation
and output), or solved out for the optimal setting of the monetary policy instrument
(typically the short-term interest rate under the central bankʼs control). Table 1
Table 1: A Classiﬁcation of Policy Rules
Instrument Optimal Taylor rule
Inﬂation forecast-based (IFB) rule it =
∞ Targeting Notes: Set Et π t + k = π * t + b1 ( ( *
t )+b x 2 t ) 2
Et Σ δ τ ⎡ π t + τ − π * + λ xt2+ τ ⎤
Et ⎡π t +1 − π * ⎤ = − Et xt +1
κ The optimal instrument rule example is from Svensson (1997, Equation 6.11). The examples
of optimal targeting rules are from Svensson (2003b, Equations 5.1 and 5.7). Throughout, π
represents the inﬂation rate, π* the inﬂation target, x is the output gap, and κ is the coefﬁcient
on the output gap in the inﬂation equation (Phillips Curve). 9. One is reminded of Goldfeldʼs (1984) quip – ʻAn economist is someone who sees something
working in practice and asks whether it would work in principleʼ. A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 11 illustrates how policy rules can be classiﬁed on these two dimensions. Taylorʼs
eponymous rule is, of course, the best-known example of an ad hoc instrument rule,
a category that would also include Batini and Haldaneʼs (1999) inﬂation forecastbased (IFB) rule. An optimal targeting rule could be represented by the objective
function (Equation 1), or by the ﬁrst-order condition expressing a linear trade-off
between the deviation of inﬂation from its target and the output gap: Et ⎡π t +1 − π * ⎤ = −
Et xt +1
κ (2) Simply put, rules of this form express the imperative to balance the expected marginal
beneﬁt of reducing inﬂation (the deviation of inﬂation from its target) with the
expected marginal cost of the inﬂation reduction (the negative of the output gap,
divided by the Phillips Curve coefﬁcient κ, multiplied by the weight on the output
gap in the objective function, λ). A larger λ (or a smaller κ) means the inﬂation
reduction comes at a greater cost, and as a result the optimising policy authority
will be willing to tolerate larger deviations of inﬂation from its target. Although
the precise form of the targeting rule will depend on the model, it can always be
expressed as an analogous trade-off between costs and beneﬁts.10
Svensson (1999) unequivocally deﬁnes IT as an optimal targeting rule of this
sort – derived from a ʻreasonably explicit objective functionʼ. While agnostic as to
whether IT necessarily involves pre-commitment, he argues that IT can, at least, help
reduce or eliminate any inﬂation bias resulting from an above-equilibrium output
target. Svensson is not alone in regarding optimisation as the essential element
distinguishing ITers from non-ITers: Woodford (2004) and Walsh (2002) also
describe it in these terms. That would put IT in the right-hand column of Table 1,
if not in the lower right-hand corner.11
But this is not the only way to map IT into a policy rule. Others prefer to think
of IT simply in terms of an ad hoc instrument rule characterised by some ﬁxed (but
not necessarily announced) target of inﬂation π*, and an inﬂation coefﬁcient in
excess of unity, thus ensuring that eventually inﬂation returns to π*. Such a reaction
function may, of course, also include a response to the output gap. Galí (2002) and
McCallum (2002), among others, describe inﬂation targeting in this way.12 10. The form of the rule will also depend on whether the central bank is assumed to be able to commit
to a future path for policy, or if it is free to re-optimise in each period.
11. In principle, it should be possible to test for optimising behaviour on the part of a central bank, just
as the null of optimal consumption behaviour has been tested against an alternative that includes
rule-of-thumb consumption. (The assumed existence of an interest-rate smoothing term in the
objective function obviously means the interest rate, unlike consumption, will not follow a random
walk.) To my knowledge, no econometric test of central bank optimisation in the context of IT has
yet been performed.
12. McCallum and Nelson (2004) argue that optimal rules can be highly model-dependent, and that
central banks would be better advised to select a rule that works well for a variety of different model
speciﬁcations. They also object to Svenssonʼs view that the objective function by itself represents
a policy rule. Svensson (2004) rebuts. 12 Kenneth N Kuttner Inﬂation targeting, as currently practised, maps only imperfectly into these
theoretical characterisations. IT does, of course, involve setting an objective for a
key target variable, namely inﬂation. Typically, policy is described as setting the
interest rate in such a way that the annual inﬂation rate returns to its target at some
speciﬁed horizon. Expressing things in terms of the behaviour of the target variable,
rather than a speciﬁc reaction function for the interest rate, is what gives IT the
ʻlook and feelʼ of a targeting rule.
But are ITersʼ simple targeting rules optimal? Clearly not – if ITers are optimisers,
they generally do not reveal it in the targeting rules used to describe their policies.
The reason is, as Woodford (2004) argues, that merely specifying a medium-term
inﬂation objective fails to characterise optimal monetary policy; doing so would
involve much nearer-term, one- and two-quarter-ahead projections of output and
inﬂation, which is where the relevant trade-off between output and inﬂation
stabilisation would occur. In the same vein, Svensson (2003a) has urged central banks
to disclose the numerical values of the weight they place on output ﬂuctuations in
their objective functions. One potential criticism of IT is that it is not sufﬁciently
optimising – ITers need to be more explicit about their objective function, and the
economyʼs near-term transition path back to the target. (This critique, and others,
will be discussed later in the paper.) In this light, IT perhaps belongs in the lower
left-hand corner of Table 1, as an ad hoc targeting rule.
In any case, it is not clear why deﬁning IT as an optimal targeting rule necessarily
excludes central banks that are not generally thought of as ITers. After all, why
would ITers have a monopoly on optimisation? Is there a reason to think that the
Fed, with its legions of well-trained PhD economists, would be either unable or
unwilling to conduct policy in an optimal manner? Apparently not, since Giannoni
and Woodford (2003) model the Fed as an ITer (in the sense of following an
optimal policy rule derived from the timeless perspective) and ﬁnd – in contrast to
Kohn (2004) – that such a rule is a good description of the Fedʼs behaviour.
And just to confuse matters further: while ITers tend to frame policy in terms
of a targeting rule, some also employ ad hoc instrument rules – both in internal
discussions, and in communicating their policies to the public. Since 2000, the
March issue of the Sveriges Riksbankʼs Inﬂation Report has included an assessment
of monetary policy using an econometrically estimated ʻrule of thumbʼ, based on
the Riksbankʼs own inﬂation forecasts.13 According to Archer (2003), a Taylor-style
rule is used internally at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) for assessing
various policy options, and one issue of the Monetary Policy Statement (May 2001)
actually included such a rule-based assessment. Nikolov (2002) reports that Bank
of England staff and the Monetary Policy Committee periodically review the
implications of a variety of policy rules, although neither the rules, nor the output
gap data used to implement them, are published. Even the Norges Bank presents
the interest rate path from a Taylor-style rule as a ʻcross-check for interest rate
settingʼ. One possible rationalisation for this informal use of instrument rules is
13. The reaction function published in the Inﬂation Report is described in detail in Jansson and
Vredin (2000) and Berg, Jansson and Vredin (2002). A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 13 that the typical ITersʼ simple targeting rule, referring only to the medium-term,
gives little or no guidance as to how the central bank is to go about achieving its
objective in the near term.
The practical and theoretical deﬁnitions of IT do share common ground, of course:
broadly speaking, both involve specifying an explicit inﬂation objective for monetary
policy, and holding the central bank accountable for achieving that objective. But
a careful look at the practice of IT conﬁrms Trumanʼs (2003) observation that IT is
both more than and less than a policy rule, narrowly deﬁned. It is more than a rule,
in the sense that inﬂation-targeting frameworks involve a number of elements (for
example, a strong emphasis on transparency and communication) that are not easily
modelled in the optimal control theory from which policy rules are derived. But at
the same time, the simple rule implied by the typical IT framework falls far short
of completely specifying central bank behaviour, optimal or otherwise, hence the
informal use of ad hoc reaction functions. On this dimension, the practice of IT is
quite eclectic. But the literature on optimal policy rules does nonetheless provide
a useful theoretical insight into the objectives of, and trade-offs facing, ITers, even
if the practice of monetary policy only approximates that ideal. 3. Origins and Evolution of Inﬂation Targeting The adoption of inﬂation targeting has occurred in two distinct waves. The ﬁrst
began with New Zealand in December 1989 (or March 1990, dated from the ﬁrst
of its Policy Targets Agreement, or PTA) and ends with Spain in January 1995.
This was followed by a three-year lull, with no further adoptions. Then, beginning
with the Czech Republic in January 1998, an additional 14 countries have become
inﬂation targeters. It is not clear exactly what prompted the second wave, although
some countries (for example, Korea and Thailand) were clearly eager for a nominal
anchor to replace failed exchange rate pegs.
Table 2 lists the 21 countries currently practising IT, distinguishing between the
7 ʻearly adoptersʼ and the 14 ʻrecent adoptersʼ.14 The table also summarises some
of the key features of each framework, including the structure of the target, the
previous policy framework, and the nature of the central banksʼ published forecasts.
The key characteristics of the inﬂation targets are also summarised graphically in
As shown in the second column of the table, IT has replaced a variety of other
monetary frameworks. For three of the early adopters, Australia, Canada, and
New Zealand, IT replaced what might be described as an ʻad hocʼ policy framework
with no explicit nominal anchor. The other four countries in this group all relied
on an exchange rate anchor prior to adopting IT. And two of these – Israel and
Chile – combined IT with a crawling-band exchange rate for a lengthy transitional
14. The list includes Switzerland, as the sole ʻundeclaredʼ ITer. While one might debate whether the
Swiss National Bank should be classiﬁed as a true ITer, clearly its abandonment of money as an
intermediate target, its embrace of an explicit numerical inﬂation objective, and its publication of
an inﬂation forecast, have all moved it a considerable distance in that direction. Prior policy
framework Mar-93 Australia Jan-93 Sweden Oct-92 UK Jan-92 Israel Ad hoc Soft peg
(ERM) Soft peg
(ERM) Soft peg
band) Canada Feb-91 Ad hoc Jan-91 Chile Soft peg
band) New Zealand Dec-89 Ad hoc Country/
Adoption date A. Early adopters 2–3% annual CPI
inﬂation ʻon average
over the cycleʼ 2% ± 1% for annual
CPI inﬂation, 1–2 year
horizon 2% for annual CPI
horizon; letter for
deviations >1% 1–3% annual CPI
horizon 1–3% for annual CPI
of 2%, 6–8 quarter
horizon 2–4% annual CPI
inﬂation, centred on
3%, 24-month horizon 1–3% annual CPI
inﬂation ʻon average
over the medium termʼ Current target GDP growth
Policy rate GDP growth
Policy rate GDP growth
Policy rate GDP growth
Policy rate GDP growth
Policy rate GDP growth
Policy rate GDP growth
Policy rate Ofﬁcial (1 year)
1+ year 2+ years
constant constant, market 8 quarters
8 quarters 1 year
(1 year) 1+ year
current constant 8 quarters
8 quarters 2+ years
endogenous ✔ ✔
✔ Fan? Forecasts 1 year (S) 1–5 years (S) 2 years (M) 2 years (S)
2 years (S), 5 years (M) 1 year (S, M) 2 years (S) 2 years (S)
2 years (S) 1–4 years (S) Unofﬁcial Table 2: Current Inﬂation Targeters and their Key Characteristics (continued next page)
Kenneth N Kuttner Ad hoc Korea Jan-00 Switzerland Sep-99 Colombia Jun-99 Brazil Jan-99 Mexico Oct-98 Poland Apr-98 Money-based Soft peg +
money Soft peg,
Soft peg Money-based Soft peg
May 1997) +
money Czech Republic Apr-98 Prior policy
Adoption date Less than 2% annual
prevention => de facto
0–2% range 5.5% ± 2.5% (2004),
4.5% ± 2.5% (2005)
annual CPI inﬂation,
5% to 6% in 2004,
to 3% 3% ± 1% annual CPI
horizon 2.5% ± 1% annual CPI
over a ʻmedium-term
horizonʼ 2–4% annual
becoming 3% ± 1 %
in 2006; unspeciﬁed
2.5% to 3.5% annual
core CPI inﬂation,
3-year horizon. Current target B. Recent adopters (Table 2 continued next page) GDP growth
Policy rate GDP growth
Policy rate constant, market
12 quarters 8 quarters
8 quarters constant
(1+ years) (1+ years)
(1+ years) (1 year)
3 years 1+ years
endogenous Ofﬁcial Unofﬁcial ✔ ✔
✔ ✔ ✔
✔ 1 year 2 years (S)
1+ years (S)
1+ years (S) 1 year (S) 3 months (M)
1+ years (S)
5 years (S) 4 quarters (S) 1 year (M) 1–3 years (S, M) Fan? Forecasts A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence
15 Ad hoc Money-based Soft peg
(crawling band) Hard peg Soft peg 2.5% ±1% for
annual CPI inﬂation,
unspeciﬁed horizon 4% ± 1% for annual
CPI inﬂation as
of year-end 2005,
4% to 5% annual CPI
horizon ʻApproximatelyʼ 2.5%
for annual CPI inﬂation
over ʻa reasonable
time horizon, normally
2.5% ± 1.5% annual
core CPI inﬂation,
unspeciﬁed horizon 3 to 6% for annual
0 to 3.5% quarterly
core CPI, unspeciﬁed
horizon Current target GDP growth
Policy rate GDP growth
✔ Fan? ✔ ✔ ✔ constant 2+ years
1+ years ✔ constant
✔ 8 quarters Ofﬁcial Forecasts constant
constant ✔ 8 quarters current year (S)
1+ years (S) 1+ years (S)
1+ years (S) 2 years (S)
1+ years (S)
1+ years (S) 1+ years (S)
1+ years (S) 3+ years (M) current year (S)
1+ years (S), 6–10 years (M) 1+ years (S)
1+ years (S) 1+ years (S)
2+ years (S) Unofﬁcial Forecast horizons given in parentheses are qualitative, or reported at semi-annual (or longer) intervals. Unofﬁcial forecasts reported can be from surveys (S),
market-based measures (M), or both. Australiaʼs adoption date corresponds to the declaration of the 2–3% target by then-Governor Fraser (see Stevens 1999 for
a discussion). Bernanke et al contend that inﬂation targeting was not fully in place until September 1994.
Sources: Fracasso, Genberg and Wyplosz (2003, Tables 1.1 and 3.6); Mishkin and Schmidt-Hebbel (2002, Table A1); Truman (2003, Table 2.3); updated and expanded
from central bank sources Notes: Jan-02 Peru Jan-02 Philippines Jul-01 Hungary Mar-01 Iceland Mar-01 Norway May-00 Thailand Money-based Ad hoc South Africa Feb-00 Prior policy
Adoption date B. Recent adopters (Table 2 continued) 16
Kenneth N Kuttner A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 17 Figure 1: Characteristics of ITersʼ Inﬂation Targets
Early adopters Recent adopters 7 7 6 6
Range 5 5 Range + midpoint ◆
◆ 4 4 Point
◆ 3 ◆ 3 ◆
◆ 2 ■ ■ ◆ ◆ ◆ 2
‘Thick point’ 1 1 Peru Hungary
Iceland South Africa
Poland Czech Republic Sweden
UK NZ 0
Canada 0 Sources: See Table 2 period as the inﬂation target was ratcheted down. The same goes for the recent
adopters, whose prior monetary regimes included soft pegs (Brazil, Colombia, the
Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico and Norway), hard pegs (Iceland), money-based
anchors (Philippines, Poland, Switzerland and Thailand), and ad hoc policies (Korea,
Peru and South Africa) 3.1 How have inﬂation-targeting frameworks evolved? The early adopters listed in Table 2 have by now had IT policies in place for
10–15 years. What is striking about these countries is how little the basic outlines
of the frameworks have changed over the years.15 All state their targets in terms
of annual overall (ʻheadlineʼ) CPI inﬂation, and except for Chileʼs 2–4 per cent
range, the targets all are somewhere in the 1 per cent to 3 per cent range; the modal
midpoint is 2 per cent. No central bank has modiﬁed the form of its target: point
targeters have remained point targeters, and range targeters have remained range
targeters. Except for Chile and Israel, which went through extended transition
periods, the numerical targets themselves have remained largely unchanged. (The
Bank of Englandʼs target changed in December 2003, but the reduction in the target
15. As an aside, it is worth noting that two countries – New Zealand and Canada – experimented with,
but abandoned, monetary conditions indices (MCIs) as operating targets. Svensson (2001) contains
a detailed review of New Zealandʼs experience. 18 Kenneth N Kuttner to 2 per cent from 2.5 per cent resulted from a switch to a new, harmonised CPI
price index, whose average inﬂation rate was somewhat lower than the old RPIX.)
And for those central banks that give a targeting horizon, that horizon has remained
constant, typically in the 1–2 year range.
Among ʻnon-transitionalʼ ITers, the salient exception to the pattern of stability
is New Zealand, which has modiﬁed three key parameters of its framework. Until
September 1997, the RBNZ used an index of ʻunderlyingʼ inﬂation as its target.
Between September 1997 and June 1999 it used a measure of ʻcoreʼ CPI inﬂation,
and since June 1999 it has simply used overall CPI inﬂation. And having begun
with a target range of 0–2 per cent, the RBNZ in early 1997 raised the upper bound
to 3 per cent, and in late 2002 it raised the lower bound to 1 per cent. In these two
dimensions, the RBNZ has moved towards the best (or at least most common) practice
of a target for overall CPI inﬂation with a non-zero lower bound. In a slightly more
subtle modiﬁcation, the September 2002 PTA changed the target to ʻbetween 1 per
cent and 3 per cent on average over the medium termʼ [authorʼs emphasis]. This
shift in language, reminiscent of the RBAʼs ʻon average over the cycleʼ, might be
interpreted as signalling a shift towards placing somewhat greater weight on output
ﬂuctuations (ʻﬂexibilityʼ) in formulating its policy.
New Zealand notwithstanding, the lack of any signiﬁcant modiﬁcations in
these countriesʼ IT frameworks is revealing – one might have expected somewhat
more evolution towards a uniform set of characteristics. One explanation is that
the frameworks really differ only in the details; that these details have remained
largely unchanged suggests that they simply donʼt matter all that much. It seems
that any relatively low (but non-zero) target will do. Similarly, point, range,
and range-with-midpoint targets all appear satisfactory, or at least the perceived
beneﬁts from moving to a ʻbetterʼ inﬂation target are sufﬁciently small that they
are outweighed by the perceived costs of switching. The guiding philosophy seems
to be ʻwhatever worksʼ. 3.2 The evolution of inﬂation targetersʼ forecasts This is not to say that the practice of IT has been completely static for 15 years.
In more subtle ways, IT has evolved – particularly when it comes to what central
banks choose to communicate. And perhaps the most prominent dimension of
communication has to do with the forecasts central banks choose to report. Here, there
has been a fair amount of change, at least for some central banks: the general trend
is clearly towards reporting explicit forecasts over increasingly long horizons.
This dispersion in terms of what forecasts (if any) central banks choose to report
is clearly evident in Table 2. The ﬁrst column under the ʻforecastsʼ heading indicates
whether the central bank publishes ofﬁcial forecasts of GDP growth, inﬂation, and
the output gap; and, if so, the horizon over which the forecasts are published. A
blank entry indicates no forecast for that variable is published; forecasts that are
more qualitative, or limited in terms of frequency, are indicated by parentheses. The
ʻpolicy rateʼ entries in the table report the nature of the policy assumption on which
the forecasts are conditioned: forecasts conditioned on a constant or (published) A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 19 market-implied path of interest rates are listed as such, while those that are based on
a published, time-varying interest rate projection (presumably one consistent with
bringing inﬂation back to its target) are labelled as ʻendogenousʼ.16 The policy rate
entry is left blank in those cases where the policy rate assumption is unspeciﬁed.
A tick mark in the second column indicates that a ʻfan chartʼ, or the equivalent, is
used to report the uncertainty associated with the forecast variables.
In addition to (or, in some cases, instead of) ofﬁcial projections, many central
banks report unofﬁcial, private-sector forecasts of key macroeconomic and ﬁnancial
variables. These cases are noted in the last column of the table, with an indication
as to whether the unofﬁcial forecasts are based on surveys (S) or are market-based
measures (M) derived from asset prices, such as the nominal-index bond spread.
At the full-reporting end of the spectrum are New Zealand and recent adopters
Norway, Iceland, Colombia and the Czech Republic. New Zealand has, at least
since 1997, reported relatively detailed annual projections for real GDP, inﬂation,
and the output gap for a 2–3 year horizon. Quarterly projections for many of the
key variables are also made public. While many of these are not tabulated, plots of
the projections appear in the Monetary Policy Statement, and the data underlying
the plots are made available publicly on the RBNZʼs website.
As impressive as it is, New Zealandʼs high standard for forecast disclosure has
recently been equalled or even surpassed by the Norwegian central bank.17 The
Norges Bank reports detailed forecasts for a 3–4 year horizon, compared with
2–3 years for the RBNZ. (The May 2004 Inﬂation Report, for example, reports
forecasts through 2007.) Both central banks are also quite explicit about the interest
rate path on which the forecast is conditioned: the RBNZ bases its forecast on a
(non-constant) trajectory of interest rates consistent with attaining the inﬂation target
at its chosen horizon, while the Norges Bank uses market expectations derived from
the term structure of interest rates. (Similarly, the exchange rate forecast is derived
from forward rates.) And the Norwegian central bank, together with the RBNZ,
the Central Bank of Iceland, the Colombian Central Bank and the Czech National
Bank are the only central banks to publish forecasts of the output gap – an essential
ingredient in the sorts of optimal targeting rules advocated by Svensson (1999).
Among the established early-adopter central banks, it is fair to say that the Bank
of Canada and the RBA, along with the Bank of Israel, occupy positions near the
opposite end of the forecast-reporting spectrum, publishing only near-term, often
qualitative, forecasts for a relatively small set of variables. (Some of the emergingmarket countries among the recent adopters, not surprisingly, tend to report only
minimal forecasts, presumably due in part to a shortage of experience and research
infrastructure. But this is hardly uniform – see Colombia and Brazil.) But both the
Canadian and Australian central banks have begun to include more information in
16. These ofﬁcial interest rate projections are published with varying degrees of speciﬁcity, however,
with some, such as the Czech Republic, indicating only in general terms how they expect the
interest rate to evolve.
17. Colombiaʼs Banco de la República also publishes a surprisingly detailed forecast, comparable to
that of the Norges Bank, but it is only available in Spanish. 20 Kenneth N Kuttner recent years, gradually moving to slightly more explicit forecasts of a larger set of
macroeconomic variables. Nonetheless, both still fall short of banks like the RBNZ
and the Norges Bank in terms of forecast detail and horizon.
Of the three, Australia goes the farthest in de-emphasising forecasts.18 The RBAʼs
extensive Statement on Monetary Policy covers a very wide range of topics, but its
focus is mainly on describing and interpreting recent trends. The Statement is not
entirely backward-looking, however. The introduction (page 3 of the May 2004 issue)
and the section entitled ʻInﬂation outlookʼ appearing on the last page of the document
(page 51 of the same issue), contain a broad-brush forecast, such as ʻinﬂation is now
expected to decline to around 1¾ per cent at the end of this year, rising to around
2½ per cent by the end of 2005ʼ. While this lacks the level of precision (spurious
or otherwise) found in other ITersʼ published forecasts, it is slightly more speciﬁc
than previous yearsʼ Statements. The May 1997 Statement, for example, said ʻthe
Bank expects underlying inﬂation during 1997 to remain low, probably declining
slightly below 2 per cent for a while. Some pick-up in inﬂation is likely in 1998 as
the favourable exchange rate effects pass but, provided growth in labour costs is not
excessive, price inﬂation should remain within the 2 to 3 per cent rangeʼ. Ofﬁcial
GDP forecasts are generally not reported in the Statement on Monetary Policy, but
instead are presented semi-annually in the Governorʼs Opening Statement to the
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public
The Bank of Canadaʼs forecasts have undergone a similar evolution in recent
years. When it was ﬁrst published in 1995, the Monetary Policy Report contained
no explicit forecasts of either inﬂation or output. But starting in 1996, GDP forecasts
for the subsequent year began to appear. A section entitled ʻInﬂation projectionʼ
appeared in November 1997, and from 1998 onward GDP and inﬂation forecasts
are consistently presented. (Only core inﬂation forecasts were reported during this
period, and usually as a range.) In 2003, the Report added a table containing forecasts
of core and overall inﬂation for the current and subsequent years. Still, it is perhaps
telling that Canadaʼs forecasts appear only at the very end of its monetary policy
document. The ITers with a history of emphasising the forecast, like the UK, New
Zealand and Sweden, typically feature their forecasts prominently in the opening
section of their documents.
Israelʼs situation differs in many ways from those of Australia and Canada. Its
failure to give an extensive forecast is probably more a function of the high level of
economic uncertainty in that country than due to any intrinsic aversion to reporting
a forecast. More than 12 years after adopting an inﬂation target, Israel is just now
completing a transition period from relatively high inﬂation to its long-term objective
of 1–3 per cent. Driven in part by exchange rate ﬂuctuations, inﬂation has been
extremely volatile in recent years, however, reaching 6 per cent in 2002 and –2
per cent in 2003. Clearly, making long-term forecasts in this kind of environment
18. See Debelle (2003) for an excellent description of Australiaʼs relatively relaxed approach to
inﬂation targeting. A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 3.3 21 Why do forecasts matter? Why do many ITers seem to attach such importance to publishing a forecast?
And what explains the evolution of the practice of IT towards the publication of
more complete, longer-horizon forecasts?
The immediate answer to both questions, of course, is simply that optimal monetary
policy, whether framed in terms of a targeting rule or an instrument rule, is always
framed in terms of expectations (or at least the policy authorityʼs projections) of the
relevant target variables. Inﬂation targeting is really inﬂation-forecast targeting, as
noted in Svensson (1997). Indeed, along with the use of an optimal targeting rule,
Svensson (1999) lists the publication of explicit forecasts for inﬂation and the output
gap as the touchstone for inﬂation targeting. Thus, if the public is to understand
what the central bank is doing in terms of a policy rule, published forecasts are
essential. And more broadly, the publication of forecasts ﬁts with ITersʼ overall
emphasis on transparency.
Why transparency itself is important is a deeper question. Geraats (2002) suggests
two broad categories of effects: information and incentive. The information effect
is based on the idea that the central bank has some proprietary information about
the state of the economy, and disclosing information can reduce the uncertainty
associated with private-sector forecasts. This is a rather general point, however, and
need not apply speciﬁcally to ITers – the same line of reasoning suggests that all
central banks should disclose their forecasts, whether or not they choose to adopt
the entire IT framework.
There is, of course, one key piece of information disclosed by inﬂation-targeting
central banks, and not revealed by non-ITers: the long-run inﬂation forecast, which
is, of course, equal to the inﬂation target itself. Orphanides and Williams (2003)
show that, compared with the case in which expectations are formed by recursive
least-squares regression, an inﬂation target improves economic performance by
pinning down long-run inﬂation expectations. But this result only explains why
setting an explicit target is helpful, and says nothing about the usefulness of releasing
forecasts per se.
That leaves Geraatsʼ so-called incentive effects. The idea here is that the disclosure
of forecasts reduces or eliminates any incentive the central bank might have to ʻcheatʼ
on its commitment to low inﬂation by engineering higher-than-expected inﬂation,
and thus achieving a higher level of output. This line of reasoning is based on models
that include a Barro-Gordon (1983) style time-consistency problem, extended to
include private information, along the lines of Canzoneri (1985). King (1997)
argues, informally, that the overall transparency associated with inﬂation targeting
effectively removes the possibility of cheating, and allows the central bank to attain
the optimal state-contingent rule. Herrendorf (1998) formalises this idea, showing
that the disclosure of ʻplannedʼ inﬂation (that is, the central bankʼs projection)
reduces the inﬂation bias.
It is worth keeping in mind, however, that the issue of transparency is much more
subtle in practice than these sorts of stylised models would suggest. Posen (2002)
points out that there are many ways to promote transparency, and publishing a forecast 22 Kenneth N Kuttner by itself does not reveal all the information one would need to discern (or verify)
the central bankʼs underlying preferences. Moreover, as discussed in Posen (2003),
the effects of transparency may be highly varied, depending on the nature of the
information being disclosed. He suggests, for example, that the largest effect of the
publication of forecasts would be on the way in which ﬁnancial markets respond
to economic news. By contrast, the careful articulation of the policy framework
through other forms of communication, such as speeches, would be more likely to
build trust and convey ﬂexibility. This particular aspect of communication is the
focus of a subsequent section of the paper, dealing with the nature of central banksʼ
stated policy goals.
Regardless of any effect the publication might have on anyoneʼs behaviour, the
availability of forecasts is unquestionably a boon to anyone seeking to understand
and characterise the conduct of monetary policy. Below, the central banksʼ forecasts
will be used in an effort to assess the degree of ʻﬂexibilityʼ in their response to
inﬂation and real economic conditions. So even if the forecasts reveal nothing by
way of private information about the state of the economy, their publication at a
minimum facilitates the publicʼs learning about the descriptive rule followed by
the monetary authority. 4. Critiques of Inﬂation Targeting Judging from its popularity, at least, inﬂation targeting is widely viewed as a
success. It is also worth nothing that the framework has never been abandoned,
except when Finland and Spain joined the European Monetary Union. And in
light of the mixed reviews of the ECBʼs policy framework, such as that of Galí
et al (2004), one wonders whether these two countries might not be experiencing
a form of buyerʼs remorse.
Inﬂation targeting has its critics, however. Critiques of IT tend to fall into one
of three categories. The ﬁrst is that it simply doesnʼt matter – the performance of
ITers is indistinguishable from that of comparable non-ITers. A second critique is
that IT is too inﬂexible, in that it goes too far in constraining central banksʼ response
to economic conditions – particularly real-side ﬂuctuations in employment and
output. The third is that IT, at least as practiced, does not come close enough to the
theoretical ideal of optimal monetary policy. A case can be made, however, that the
thrust of this third critique is really very close to the ʻtoo inﬂexibleʼ criticism. 4.1 The ʻinﬂation targeting doesnʼt matterʼ critique Discerning a distinct empirical effect of inﬂation targeting has posed a major
challenge to IT advocates. The problems are threefold. The ﬁrst is the relatively
short sample available for evaluating ITersʼ track record. (Of course, the longer
IT is debated, the more evidence is accumulated.) The second is disentangling the
effects of IT from the generally favourable economic conditions prevailing in the
1990s. And the third, related problem, is specifying an appropriate counterfactual,
in the absence of an exogenously-assigned control group of non-ITers. A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 23 In large part as a result of these obstacles, the evidence on whether IT ʻmattersʼ
has been rather mixed. The general improvement in the performance of economic
outcomes in inﬂation-targeting countries is by now reasonably well documented.
Corbo, Landerretche and Schmidt-Hebbel (2002), for example, found that ITers
were able to reduce their inﬂation rates and hit their inﬂation targets quite reliably
while also reducing the volatility, relative to the pre-adoption period.19 Neumann
and von Hagen (2002) found that interest rate volatility also fell post-adoption;
however, they were unable to detect any signiﬁcant differences on this, or any other
dimension, between the performance of ITers and industrialised non-ITers. In a
similar vein, Ball and Sheridan (2003) concluded that much of the apparent
improvement in ITersʼ economic performance can be attributed to a reversion to
the mean, rather than to a distinct effect of IT per se. Hyvonen (2004), however,
challenged the Ball and Sheridan conclusion, showing that mean reversion tends not
to occur in the absence of a policy framework designed to effect such a reversion
– mean reversion simply doesnʼt happen by itself. With no more than 15 yearsʼ worth
of data (and for most countries, much less), however, the question of ITʼs effects on
macroeconomic performance is sure to remain unsettled for some time to come.
The difﬁculty of discerning a ﬁrst-order difference in macroeconomic outcomes
has led to efforts to distinguish more subtle differences between ITers and nonITers. Here the results have been somewhat more promising. One important ﬁnding
is that the persistence of inﬂation among ITers is less than for non-ITers, a result
reported by Kuttner and Posen (1999, 2001), Siklos (1999) and Levin, Natalucci
and Piger (2004). The interpretation is that, with inﬂation expectations more ﬁrmly
anchored by the inﬂation target, there is less of a tendency for inﬂation shocks to
propagate through wage- and price-setting behaviour. This hypothesis is borne out
by analyses that examine inﬂation expectations more directly. Kuttner and Posen
(1999), for example, ﬁnd a smaller impact of inﬂation shocks on long-term interest
rates in Canada and the United Kingdom post-adoption. And in analysing surveybased inﬂation expectations, Levin et al (2004) ﬁnd that recent inﬂation realisations
have a much smaller impact on expectations for ITers than they do for non-ITers. 4.2 Flexibility and optimality – one goal, or two? The objection most often raised to inﬂation targeting in the US is that it is too
ʻinﬂexibleʼ. Usually, that is taken to mean that the adoption of IT would force the
central bank to pay attention only to inﬂation, to the exclusion of output stabilisation
– and potentially other central bank objectives, such as ﬁnancial stability, as well. In
other words, IT is viewed as a step in the direction of ʻinﬂation onlyʼ targeting; or as
Kohn (2004) put it, ʻadopting IT, even in its softer versions, would be a slight shift
along the continuum of constrained discretion in the direction of constraint, and the
19. It is worth mentioning a related study by Chortareas, Stasavage and Sterne (2002) examining the
effects of central bank transparency, deﬁned narrowly in terms of whether, and at what level of
detail, a forecast is published. Using self-reported survey data, they ﬁnd that those central banks
that publish more extensive forecasts also tend to have lower inﬂation rates, on average. 24 Kenneth N Kuttner beneﬁts of such a shift are unlikely to outweigh its costsʼ. The Federal Open Market
Committee (FOMC) has not formally taken up the question of inﬂation targeting
since 1995, but the objections raised during that discussion were essentially the same.
In arguing against the idea, Federal Reserve Governor Janet Yellen interpreted it
as meaning that ʻthe inﬂation rate should be the sole objective of policy for current
and future years, with no weight being placed on achieving competing, ultimate
goals for real variablesʼ (FOMC 1995). A similar objection was raised by Friedman
and Kuttner (1996).20
The problem is, as Blanchard (2003) observes, that the intellectual (or at least
academic) foundation of inﬂation targeting rests on the ʻdivine coincidenceʼ that
stabilising inﬂation is equivalent to stabilising output around its natural level. Cost
shocks may be present, but their effect comes exclusively through their impact on
the natural level of output; hence there is no conﬂict between the two objectives of
output and inﬂation stabilisation. The conclusion follows logically from the absence
of an error term in the New Keynesian version of the Phillips Curve. In this case,
the optimal level of output can be attained by eliminating any dispersion in relative
prices, which in the context of models with staggered price setting, requires complete
price stability.21 In this case, the two goals of output and inﬂation stabilisation
collapse into a single objective.
For monetary policy to have two meaningfully distinct goals requires the existence
of cost-push, or supply shocks. Woodford (2004) includes an exogenous cost-push
shock in the aggregate supply relation, thereby creating ʻa tension between the
goals of inﬂation stabilisation and output-gap stabilisationʼ – a property shared by
Svenssonʼs various formulations of optimal monetary policy.22 In the presence of
these shocks, absolute price stabilisation will generally not be optimal. Faced with
an adverse cost-push shock, the loss-minimising central bank will allow inﬂation to
rise temporarily, rather than keep inﬂation constant at the cost of a sharper reduction
in output. This is precisely the point made by Yellen in her argument against inﬂation
targeting (FOMC 1995): ʻFortunately, the goals of price stability and output stability
are often in harmony, but when the goals conﬂict and it comes to calling for tough
trade-offs, to me, a wise and humane policy is occasionally to let inﬂation rise even
when inﬂation is running above targetʼ. This is, of course, exactly the trade-off
represented by the optimal targeting rule (Equation 2) discussed above.
So if IT is nothing more than conducting policy based on an optimal targeting
rule like Equation (2), as Svensson (1999) maintains, what accounts for Yellenʼs
20. Unfortunately, much of the debate in the mid 1990s was framed by the proposed Economic Growth
and Price Stability Act of 1995, which would have replaced the Fedʼs dual mandate with the single
objective of price stability. For this reason, the Act was widely interpreted as specifying ʻinﬂationonly targetingʼ.
21. The deﬁnitive statement of this idea in a New Keynesian setting is Woodford (2003), especially
Chapter 6, Section 3. The New Classical rendition of the same argument can be found in Goodfriend
and King (1997).
22. Interestingly, Woodford (2003) discounts the empirical relevance of these inefﬁcient cost-push
shocks: ʻwhile it is certainly possible that substantial disturbances of this kind occur, the matter is
far from establishedʼ (p 454). A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 25 objection? The most likely explanation is that inﬂation targeters often do not talk as
if they were guided by (2), preferring to focus instead on the simple targeting rule
of bringing the inﬂation rate back to its target over the medium-term horizon. This
of course relates back to the point in Woodford (2004), that to implement policy
optimally, ITers need to specify the transition path back to the inﬂation target, since
it is along the transition path that the output-inﬂation trade-off becomes relevant.
Thus, the charge that IT is too inﬂexible is, at least in this dimension, equivalent
to the criticism that ITers should more closely follow the prescriptions of optimal
policy rules. 4.3 What do inﬂation targeters say about output stabilisation? Surely no inﬂation-targeting central banker would admit to being an ʻinﬂation
nutterʼ, to borrow Kingʼs (1997) memorable phrase. All now claim to be ʻﬂexibleʼ.
But pledges of ﬂexibility are rather abstract – in concrete terms, how do inﬂationtargeting central banks state their policy objectives? And do they do so in such a way
that communicates the potential trade-off between stabilising output and stabilising
inﬂation, and indicates, at least roughly, how the central bank would balance those
objectives should they conﬂict?
One might argue that what matters is what inﬂation-targeting central banks actually
do – not what they say. But an essential element – if not the essential element – of
inﬂation targeting is transparency; Bernanke et al (1999) maintain that IT is, more
than anything else, a framework for improving communication. One would therefore
hope that the ﬂexible deeds of inﬂation-targeting central banks would be matched
by equally ﬂexible words. Adhering to the conventional wisdom that central banks
should ʻdo what they do but talk only about inﬂationʼ would, as Friedman (2003)
points out, obfuscate the real goals of monetary policy, and represent the antithesis
of transparency. This would also open ITers up to the charge of manipulating rather
than managing expectations. More worryingly, Friedman (2004) suggests that the
single-minded focus on an inﬂation target may eventually lead to ʻthe atrophication
of concerns for real outcomesʼ.
So how does lip service to ﬂexibility translate into talk? In an effort to address
that question, I perused the ofﬁcial online publications of all of the early adopters
listed in Table 2, as well as those of a (not randomly) selected subset of the recent
adopters. What I was looking for was a statement of the broad objectives of monetary
policy, and how competing objectives might be balanced, if at all. Such statements
often appear at the very beginning of the central banksʼ Inﬂation Reports, or the
equivalent; in other cases, a statement of policy objectives can be found as a standalone page somewhere on the central bankʼs website, or as part of the document
spelling out the criteria by which the policy authority was to be evaluated (for
example, New Zealandʼs PTA). Occasionally, the relevant information was gleaned
from a central bank ofﬁcialʼs speech, if that speech was represented as conveying the
ofﬁcial views of the institution. This unscientiﬁc survey revealed a wide variation
in ITersʼ communication strategy. 26 Kenneth N Kuttner What ITers say about output stabilisation can be put into three groups. The central
banks in the ﬁrst, ʻtough talkʼ, category are those that either ignore or deny any
responsibility for output stabilisation. On the other end of the spectrum are those
that explicitly acknowledge the possibility that trade-offs may arise between output
and inﬂation stabilisation – call these the ʻexplicit ﬂexibilityʼ ITers. Some banks
occupy a middle ground, acknowledging some role for output stabilisation, but
without clearly mentioning a trade-off. Table 3 displays an (admittedly subjective)
assessment of where some of the ITers fall on this spectrum. Interestingly, where
the central banks fall seems to bear no direct relation to whether they operate under
a unitary, hierarchical, or dual mandate.23
Table 3: Selected ITersʼ Stated Role for Output Stabilisation
Tough talk Intermediate Explicit ﬂexibility New Zealand, pre-1999 (U)
Chile (U) New Zealand, post-1999 (U)
Australia (D) Norway (H) Notes: (U) indicates a unitary legal mandate (price stability, or in the case of Chile, currency stability),
(H) indicates a hierarchical mandate with price stability ﬁrst, and (D) a dual or multiple
mandate. Sources: Debelle (2003); Truman (2003); central banksʼ publications Statements from the ʻtough talkʼ central banksʼ statements either assert that
controlling inﬂation promotes real growth, or they ignore the issue altogether. In
effectively establishing a unitary objective, these institutions present a view of the
world characterised by Blanchardʼs ʻdivine coincidenceʼ.
One of the best examples of the former is the Bank of Canada, whose policy
statements have consistently promoted the view that low inﬂation is the means by
which healthy growth is achieved. The November 2000 Monetary Policy Report,
for example, states: ʻInﬂation control is not an end in itself; it is the means whereby
monetary policy contributes to solid economic performanceʼ. Similarly, the
background information accompanying the renewal of the inﬂation target (Bank of
Canada 2001) states: ʻthe targets contribute to the achievement of sustained, robust
economic growthʼ. Even policy tightenings intended to curb inﬂation are described
as necessary for promoting growth. The statement accompanying the 17 May 2000
rate hike, for instance, said it was ʻdeemed necessary to keep the future trend of
inﬂation near the midpoint of the Bankʼs target range of 1–3 per cent so that the
Canadian economy could continue to grow at a sustainable rateʼ [emphasis added].
The Chilean central bank takes a similar line, stating in its Monetary Policy Report
that ʻmonetary policyʼs focus on inﬂation targeting helps to moderate ﬂuctuations
in employment and domestic outputʼ. In the same vein, the RBNZʼs 1996 and
1997 PTAs give its objective as maintaining ʻa stable general level of prices so
23. Truman (2003) lists the RBA as having a hierarchical mandate, but here I follow Debelle (2003)
in categorising it as a dual/multiple mandate central bank. A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 27 that monetary policy can make its maximum contribution to sustainable economic
growth, employment, and development opportunities within the New Zealand
economyʼ [emphasis added].
Other tough talkers ignore the output stabilisation issue altogether. This would
describe the RBNZ prior to 1996, when its PTA mentioned only price stability.
The Bank of England might also be put into this category, although its remit does
acknowledge that ʻthe actual inﬂation rate will on occasions depart from its target
as a result of shocks and disturbances. Attempts to keep inﬂation at the inﬂation
target in these circumstances may cause undesirable volatility in outputʼ.
This is not to say that tough talkers ignore output ﬂuctuations entirely. But central
banks in this group consistently describe monetary policy in terms of demand shocks,
which, as we know, create no tension between output and inﬂation objectives. A
1998 brochure written by Don Brash, then-Governor of the RBNZ, is typical: ʻif the
economy underperforms, that creates a risk of deﬂation. In such a case, to achieve
price stability, the Reserve Bank gives the economy a “kick start” by lowering short
term interest rates. The inverse applies if the economy overheats, the Reserve Bank
constraining inﬂation via higher short term interest ratesʼ (Brash 1998). And this
is largely consistent with the way in which real-side developments are treated in
these central banksʼ ofﬁcial publications – as a determinant or predictor of inﬂation,
rather than in terms of a distinct goal.
Even these tough talkers concede that there are situations in which complete
price stabilisation would be inappropriate, however. These are instances of one-off
price level changes, due, for example, to changes in indirect taxes or transitory
oil-price shocks. (These might be thought of as one-time, serially uncorrelated
cost shocks.) In these cases, central banks typically say they will not try to offset
the ﬁrst-round effects of the price changes, but instead hold the line against any
follow-on inﬂationary effects. Sometimes, as in the early years of New Zealandʼs
framework, an escape clause will be given with a very speciﬁc set of conditions
under which target deviations would be allowed. (More recent PTAs still contain
an escape clause with a list of conditions, but since 1996 the list seems intended to
be illustrative, rather than exhaustive.) Thus, tough talkers stop short of hard-line
The ITers in the intermediate category are those that acknowledge – or at least
hint at – an objective of output stabilisation that is distinct from inﬂation control;
Swedenʼs Riksbank, the RBA, and the post-1999 RBNZ arguably fall into this
category. A relatively direct statement to this effect can be found on the RBAʼs
website: ʻThis approach allows a role for monetary policy in dampening the
ﬂuctuations in output over the course of the business cycleʼ. The RBNZ is a bit
more oblique, but since 1999 its PTAs declare that the Bank shall ʻimplement
monetary policy in a sustainable, consistent, transparent manner, and shall seek to
avoid unnecessary instability in output, interest rates, and the exchange rateʼ.24 The
24. As noted above, in 2002, following the appointment of a new governor, Alan Bollard, the horizon for
RBNZʼs inﬂation target was changed to ʻon average over the medium termʼ, suggesting somewhat
greater ﬂexibility. Ironically, Brash (1998) had argued against a similar relaxation of the horizon,
which had been proposed by New Zealandʼs trade unions. 28 Kenneth N Kuttner Riksbankʼs 1999 ʻclariﬁcation and evaluationʼ of its inﬂation target (Heikensten
1999), is the most detailed and speciﬁc of the three institutions in this category,
stating that ʻmonetary policy does have consequences for the demand situation and
employment in the short runʼ [emphasis in the original]. It goes on to say that for
ʻconsiderable shocksʼ, there may be grounds for not attempting to return inﬂation
to the targeted level immediately. In such a situation the Riksbank shall clearly
state in advance – in the Inﬂation Report and in connection with monetary policy
decisions – how it expects inﬂation to deviate from the target and why. In both cases,
the justiﬁcation for deviations are the social costs that might otherwise be incurred
because of avoidable ﬂuctuations in economic activityʼ.
Only one ʻexplicitly ﬂexibleʼ inﬂation targeter has turned up thus far: Norway.
Compared with other central banks, the Norges Bankʼs directness on the issue of
ﬂexibility is exceptional. The opening pages of its Inﬂation Report declare that the
ʻNorges Bank operates a ﬂexible inﬂation-targeting regime, so that weight is given
to both variability in inﬂation and variability in output and employmentʼ. And with
respect to the targeting horizon, it states: ʻThe more precise horizon will depend
on the disturbances to which the economy is exposed, and how they will affect the
path for the real economy in the time aheadʼ.
Deputy Governor Jarle Bergo went even farther in a September 2002 speech,
describing in detail the trade-off facing the central bank: ʻMonetary policy can be
used aggressively to bring inﬂation under control quickly, but with considerable
ﬂuctuations in the real economy as a consequence; or it may be used more gradually
with less of an impact on the real economy, but with inﬂation being allowed to
deviate from the target over a slightly longer period. In the short term, there will
thus be a trade-off between output and employment developments and the variation
in inﬂation around the inﬂation targetʼ (Bergo 2002).25
The lessons from all this are twofold. One is that based on ITersʼ rhetoric, it is
easy to see how even enlightened observers like Friedman and Yellen could conclude
that inﬂation targeting is inﬂation-only targeting. The other lesson is that one way
to convey ﬂexibility is to be a little vague, like the RBA – but it is not the only
way. The Norges Bank (and to a lesser extent, the Riksbank) convey a great deal
of ﬂexibility in much more precise terms, contradicting the view that a trade-off
exists between transparency and ﬂexibility. And the Norges Bankʼs approach, with
its explicit acknowledgement of a role for output stabilisation, is arguably more
consistent with transparency of the sort that Friedman (2004) ﬁnds lacking in ITersʼ
descriptions of their policy objectives. 4.4 Have ITers demonstrated their ﬂexibility? No amount of talk matters, of course, unless it is also consistent with the central
bankʼs actions. How then is one to assess the ﬂexibility of central banksʼ policies? This
section presents two complementary assessments for a small subset of the inﬂation
25. Bergo goes on to describe the trade-off in terms of a ʻloss functionʼ, displaying a ʻTaylor curveʼ
along with hypothetical indifference curves. Although he stopped short of stating his value for λ
in Equation (1), he noted that this was implicit in the horizon chosen for inﬂation stabilisation. A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 29 targeters discussed above. One method involves estimating simple reaction functions
(that is, ʻad hoc instrument rulesʼ) in the hope of ﬁnding positive coefﬁcients on the
output gap or growth terms. The other, more informal method is to look directly at
how central banks responded in situations where they were presented with a choice
between output and inﬂation stabilisation. Following Kuttner (2004), the approach
involves using inﬂation-targeting central banksʼ own published forecasts, rather
than econometrically-estimated proxies for the relevant expectations. This has the
advantages of incorporating central banksʼ own real-time judgement as to economic
conditions, as well as simplifying the econometrics – an important consideration
in working with such short samples, where methods like Generalised Method of
Moments would be highly problematic. The main disadvantage, of course, is that it
limits the analysis to those central banks which have a relatively long track record
of published forecasts, and even then the time span covered is constrained by the
availability of forecast data. For this reason, the analysis focuses on New Zealand,
Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The reaction-function approach uses a variant of the forward-looking Clarida,
Galí and Gertler (2000) speciﬁcation, it = i * + x + 1 t ,t 2 yt + k , t + ( t + k ,t * )+ it 1 + et (3) where Δyt+k,t and πt+k,t are the central bankʼs period-t forecasts of real GDP growth
and inﬂation over the subsequent k quarters, xt,t is the estimate of the period-t output
gap made at time t and it is the policy rate (typically the repo rate). The lagged
interest rate on the right-hand side is usually interpreted as capturing interest rate
smoothing. The attractiveness of the speciﬁcation is that it assumes forward-looking
behaviour on the part of the central bank. And because the bankʼs inﬂation forecast is
included as a regressor, positive estimates of β1 or β 2 are often loosely interpreted
as reﬂecting a concern for output stabilisation over and above the extent to which
output affects the inﬂation forecast.26
In implementing this approach, one immediately runs up against the problem
that central banks do not generally report estimates of the output gap, xt,t. Among
the three banks analysed, New Zealand is the only one to have reported output gap
ﬁgures with any degree of consistency.27 But using an assumed rate of potential
GDP growth, and assuming the output gap tends to zero as the end of the forecast
horizon, it is possible to back out an implicit estimate of the output gap using the
central banksʼ projections of real GDP growth. Although this procedure is less than
ideal, it at least has the merit of using only information available to the bank in real
time. Additional details on this procedure appear in Kuttner (2004).
26. This interpretation is not entirely justiﬁed, however, as optimal instrument rules resembling
Equation (3) typically include a non-zero coefﬁcient on output (or the gap), even with a zero value
for λ, the weight on output ﬂuctuations in Equation (1).
27. The RBNZ reported quarterly output gap projections in its Monetary Policy Statements from
December 1997 through November 1999, and again from December 2000 through March 2001.
For those periods in which quarterly ﬁgures were not reported, they were interpolated from the
annual averages, which have been published consistently throughout the 1997–2003 period. 30 Kenneth N Kuttner Results from estimating Equation (3) appear in Table 4 with the horizon k set
to four quarters. The equation works ʻwellʼ for New Zealand and Sweden, in the
sense that the estimated coefﬁcients have the ʻcorrectʼ sign, and are statistically
signiﬁcant.28 The so-called Taylor Principle of a greater than one-for-one response
of the nominal interest rate to inﬂation is satisﬁed. Taking into account the coefﬁcient
on the lagged interest rate, the implied long-run response is 4.9 for New Zealand,
and 2.8 for Sweden. But with respect to the ﬂexibility issue, the key result is that
the estimated coefﬁcients on output (real GDP growth for Sweden, the gap for New
Zealand) are positive and statistically signiﬁcant. Regardless of what they might
say, therefore, these two central banks respond to real economic conditions over
and above what those conditions might imply for future inﬂation.29 The UK yields
poor results, however. None of the coefﬁcients are signiﬁcant, although those on
forecast GDP growth and inﬂation at least have the correct signs. The coefﬁcient
on the lagged interest rate is near unity, suggesting that over this very small sample,
the Bank of Englandʼs repo rate looks more or less like a random walk.30
An alternative way to assess ITersʼ ﬂexibility is to examine their response when
confronted with a choice between controlling inﬂation and stabilising output
– cost-push shocks, in other words. Discerning these shocks in the data is no easy
task, of course. (This is presumably why Woodford (2003) views even the question
of their existence as ʻfar from establishedʼ.) But here again, one can use central
bankersʼ own forecasts to determine, at least qualitatively, the nature of the shocks
experienced by their economies.
One way to do this is simply to examine the co-movement between the output
and inﬂation forecast errors. Higher-than-expected realisations of both GDP and
inﬂation would suggest a positive aggregate demand shock, for example. If, on the
other hand, inﬂation came in higher than expected but GDP growth was lower than
expected, an adverse supply shock would be the likely culprit. Similarly, higherthan-expected GDP growth combined with lower-than-expected inﬂation would be
associated with a favourable supply shock.
As in the reaction-function analysis above, this approach also relies on the
availability of published forecasts. That means focusing on the same set of countries
– New Zealand, Sweden, and the UK – plus Canada, whose relatively sketchy
forecasts are more amenable to this more qualitative analysis than they would have
been to the estimation of a reaction function. Annual, rather than quarterly, forecast
errors are analysed, simply because all of the forecasts are for annual changes in real
GDP or the CPI, thus creating a great deal of overlap at a quarterly frequency.
Figures 2 through 5 contain scatterplots of the real GDP and inﬂation forecast
errors for these four countries. (Note that the plotsʼ scales differ considerably across
countries.) Years characterised by demand shocks – output and inﬂation forecast
28. Very similar results are reported in Berg et al (2002).
29. It would be interesting to know whether the same would be true for New Zealand in the 1990–1996
sub-sample, which is often regarded as characterised by relatively ʻstrictʼ inﬂation targeting.
30. One reason for the poor results could simply be the lack of much signiﬁcant variation in the inﬂation
or the output gap forecasts since 1997. 23 UK
(0.61) Intercept –0.06
(0.12) 0.78 9.00
(0.26) LM test for
2nd order 0.42**
(0.19) Lagged i auto-correlation Inﬂation
gap Estimation is by ordinary least squares. Numbers in parentheses are standard errors. Asterisks denote statistical signiﬁcance: ***, ** and * at the 0.01, 0.05
and 0.10 levels, respectively. The inﬂation forecast is the forecast change in the target inﬂation rate over the subsequent four quarters, minus the inﬂation
target (or the midpoint of the range, in the case of New Zealand). The growth forecast is for real GDP growth over the subsequent four quarters, or in the
case of New Zealand, the change in the output gap. 38 Sweden
1994:Q1–2003:Q2 Notes: 23 New Zealand
1997:Q4–2003:Q2 N Coefﬁcient on: Table 4: Estimated Forward-looking Reaction Function for New Zealand, Sweden and the UK A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence
31 32 Kenneth N Kuttner Figure 2: Output and Inﬂation Forecast Errors – New Zealand
1.5 ● 1998 ● Inflation forecast error 1.0
● 0.5 2004 ● ●
● 0.0 1997 ● ● 2004 ● -0.5
-4 -3 -2 -1
GDP forecast error 1 2 3 — Half year ahead — One and a half years ahead Figure 3: Output and Inﬂation Forecast Errors – Sweden
2 1 ●
● CPI forecast error ● ● 0 ● ● ● -1 ● ● 1994 ● 2003 2003 ● ●
● ● 1994 ● -2
● -3 ●
-3 -2 -1 0 1
GDP forecast error — One year ahead — Two years ahead 3 4 5 A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 33 Figure 4: Output and Inﬂation Forecast Errors – UK
● RPIX forecast error 0.5
1998 ● ● 2003 ● ● ● 2003 -0.5 1999 ● ● -1.0
-1.0 -0.5 0.0 ● 0.5
GDP forecast error 1.5 2.0 2.5 — One year ahead — Two years ahead Figure 5: Output and Inﬂation Forecast Errors – Canada
● Core inflation forecast error 0.6 0.4
● 1997 0.2
● 0.0 -0.2 -0.4 ● ● ●
● 2003 -0.6
-1.5 -1.0 -0.5 0.0 0.5
GDP forecast error — One year ahead 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 34 Kenneth N Kuttner Figure 6: Inﬂation and the Policy Rate – New Zealand
% % 9 9 8 8
Policy rate 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 Target range 2 2 Target inflation rate(a)
(year ended) 1
0 1998 2000 3 1
2002 2004 0 (a) Until September 1997, an underlying measure of inﬂation was targeted. From September 1997 to
June 1999, core CPI inﬂation was targeted and after June 1999 headline CPI inﬂation. Figure 7: Inﬂation and the Repo Rate – Sweden
% % 8 8
Repo rate 6 6 4 4
Target range 2 2 0 0
(year ended) -2 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 -2 A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 35 Figure 8: Inﬂation and the Repo Rate – UK
% % 7 7 6 6
Repo rate 5 5 4 4 3 3
Target 2 2
(year ended) 1
0 1997 1998 1999 2000 1 2001 2003 2002 0 Figure 9: Inﬂation and the Policy Rate – Canada
% % 6 6
Policy rate 5 5 4 4
Target range 3 3 Core CPI inflation
2 (year ended) 2 1 1
Overall CPI inflation
(year ended) 0 1998 2000 2002 2004 0 36 Kenneth N Kuttner errors of the same sign – fall in the northeast and southwest quadrants. Those years
in which output and inﬂation unexpectedly moved in opposite directions fall in the
northwest and southeast quadrants. These are the years in which policy-makers
potentially faced a real trade-off between output and inﬂation stabilisation.
The ﬁrst conclusions to be drawn from the ﬁgures is that a relatively large number
of the observations lie in the northwest and southeast quadrants, suggesting the
four countriesʼ experiences are not dominated by demand shocks. There are a few
notable exceptions, however: Sweden in 1996, and Canada during the 2001–2003
period. As shown in Figures 7 and 9, monetary policy responded pretty much as
expected, with large movements in the policy interest rates.
A second conclusion to be drawn from the ﬁgures is that all four countries spent
a lot of time in the southeast quadrant, with higher-than-expected GDP and lowerthan-expected inﬂation. These are mostly the ʻnew economyʼ years, 1998–2000,
when many central bankers around the world were surprised by their economiesʼ
capacity for non-inﬂationary growth. This favourable-supply-shock conﬁguration
clearly creates something of a trade-off, as reversing the fall in inﬂation would have
entailed pursuing a more expansionary monetary policy – but this is surely an easier
dilemma to deal with than that created by adverse supply shocks.31 In any case,
there is no clear tendency for any of the central banks to ﬁght the drop in inﬂation
with expansionary policy. In Canada, for example, the policy interest rate was kept
in the vicinity of 4¾ per cent during 1998 and 1999, despite an inﬂation rate at or
near the bottom of the target range. Similarly, there is not much of an overall trend
in the UKʼs repo rate over this period. Rates were actually raised in both countries
in 2000, despite below-target inﬂation, presumably reﬂecting the view that some
of the late-90s expansion resulted from demand factors. (And indeed, the inﬂation
forecasts were tending to rise during this period.) For all these reasons, the policy
reaction to this ʻnew economyʼ growth spurt is not an ideal test case.
ITersʼ response to adverse supply shocks – observations in the northwest quadrant
of the scatterplots – would provide a better gauge of ﬂexibility. The problem is
that there are very few of these observations in the relatively short sample for
which forecast data are available. In fact, for New Zealand and Sweden the only
points in this quadrant correspond to 2001; for the UK, it is 2002.32 (Canada has
no observations in this quadrant.) How did policy in these three countries respond
to these episodes?
For the UK, the answer is simple: the Bank of England did nothing. Despite
higher-than-expected inﬂation, the Bank kept the repo rate at 4 per cent throughout
2002, and even cut it 25 basis points in February 2003. Its May 2003 Inﬂation
Report was very clear that it viewed the adverse inﬂation shock as due strictly to
31. A questionable feature of the conventional quadratic objective function used in the analysis of
optimal monetary policy is its symmetrical treatment of favourable and adverse shocks.
32. The 1998 inﬂation forecast error for New Zealand is also large and positive, but this is the result
of the bankʼs forecast of a sharp deceleration in inﬂation in that year, to 0.5 per cent from 2.0 per
cent in 1997, which seems to have been based on an implausibly large degree of exchange rate
pass-through. A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 37 transitory factors: higher petrol prices, a depreciation of the pound, and (puzzlingly)
a fall in house prices. Clearly, the Bank looked past these factors in its decision to
keep policy unchanged.
New Zealandʼs situation in 2001 was somewhat more difﬁcult than that of the
UK. Annual core CPI inﬂation breached the upper bound of the target range in late
2000, and remained above 3 per cent through the ﬁrst half of 2001; and yet, annual
GDP growth had slowed to 1.2 per cent in March 2001.33 Despite the inﬂation
spike, however, the RBNZ cut rates by 175 basis points over the course of 2001.
Complicating the decision was the fact that transitory factors could not fully account
for the rapid price rises; as discussed in some detail in the May 2001 Monetary Policy
Statement, stripping out the volatile CPI components still left an inﬂation rate near
the upper end of the target range. This episode, therefore, seems to demonstrate a
willingness on the part of the RBNZ to respond to economic weakness, even when
it involved a risk of higher inﬂation.34
Swedenʼs situation in 2001 is in many ways similar to that of New Zealand:
signiﬁcantly above-target inﬂation, combined with lower-than-expected growth.
And like New Zealand, the inﬂation surge was not readily attributable to one-time
or transitory factors. The Riksbankʼs response was relatively muted: a 25 basis point
rate increase in July 2001, followed by a 50 basis point rate cut in September 2001
as inﬂationary pressures eased. Like the RBNZ and the Bank of England, the
Riksbank did not over-react to higher-than-expected, above-target inﬂation when
it was accompanied by slow economic growth. 5. Conclusions An impressively large and rich literature on inﬂation targeting, from both practical
and theoretical perspectives, has developed in the past 10 years. From the standpoint
of stimulating interesting research on monetary policy, at least, IT should be judged
a resounding success. But in spite of (or perhaps because of) all the research on the
topic, a number of misunderstandings have persisted about inﬂation targeting – at
least in non-IT countries, such as the US. This paperʼs goal has been to illuminate,
if not completely resolve, some of those misunderstandings.
The ﬁrst section of the paper took up the deceptively simple question of how to
deﬁne IT, and identify ITers – both from a practical perspective, and theoretically, in
terms of optimal monetary policy rules. The conclusion is that IT, at least as currently
practised, does not translate neatly into one speciﬁc kind of monetary policy rule,
although it can certainly be described as a rule in a broad sense of the word. 33. Annual ﬁgures for New Zealand are conventionally reported on a March-over-March basis.
34. In a detailed narrative examination of RBNZ policy during three episodes in the 1990s (1992–93,
1995–96 and 1997–98), Svensson (2001) concluded that ʻthere is no evidence that policy has
systematically resulted in unnecessary variability in output, interest rates and the exchange rateʼ,
despite the fact that the language about ʻunnecessary instability in output, interest rates and the
exchange rateʼ did not appear in the PTA until December 1999. 38 Kenneth N Kuttner The second section described the ways in which the practice of inﬂation
targeting has – and has not – changed over the past 15 years. The basic features of
most countriesʼ IT frameworks have changed very little over the years. There has,
however, been something of a trend towards the more comprehensive reporting of
macroeconomic forecasts, perhaps reﬂective of efforts to increase transparency and
the emphasis on forward-looking policy-making.
The third section discussed two critiques of inﬂation targeting: ﬁrst, that it doesnʼt
matter; and second, that it is too inﬂexible. On the latter, the paper presented some
evidence indicating that ITers have, in practice, been relatively ﬂexible, in the sense
of taking real economic conditions into account in deciding how aggressively to
react to inﬂation. Perusing ITersʼ published policy statements, however, it is very
easy to come away with the impression that IT involves a more single-minded
pursuit of price stability, suggesting something of a gap between the rhetoric and the
reality of IT. This conclusion echoes Faust and Hendersonʼs (2004) assessment that
IT ʻinvolves communication policy that is literally inconsistent with best practice,
and in any case obfuscates some relatively simple issuesʼ.
Inﬂation-targeting central banksʼ reluctance to talk directly about output
stabilisation is in some ways understandable. After all, many countries adopted IT
in less-than-ideal circumstances, such as after the abandonment of an exchange
rate peg, or as part of a broader disinﬂation strategy. In these cases, it is perhaps
not surprising that ITers should have played up the price stability message, at the
expense of ﬂexibility, in an effort to establish their anti-inﬂationary credentials.
And in any case, there seems to be a deeply-ingrained central banking taboo
against talking about any sort of short-term trade-off between output and inﬂation,
and not only among ITers. (One need only recall the controversy surrounding
Alan Blinderʼs 1994 statement that the ʻcentral bank does have a role in reducing
ITers have also been lucky. Aside from the occasional ﬁnancial panic, the 1990s
were a relatively quiescent decade, more or less free of supply-side disturbances
such as the persistent oil price shocks and productivity slowdown of the 1970s.
Moreover, to the extent that there have been supply shifts, they have generally been
favourable, combining higher growth and lower inﬂation. Thus, a benign economic
environment has allowed ITers to ﬁnesse the more difﬁcult policy issues. Reality
has obeyed Blanchardʼs ʻdivine coincidenceʼ, in other words. The good luck will
inevitably run out, however, and adverse cost-push shocks are sure to appear at
some point. Dealing sensibly with a more difﬁcult economic environment may
require further evolution in the practice of IT, towards even greater transparency
in terms of communicating the relevant policy trade-offs. And that might not be
such a bad thing. 35. Quoted in Woodward (2000, p 132). A Snapshot of Inﬂation Targeting in its Adolescence 39 References
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