Chapter 3 Monetary policy regimes and economic performance: The historical record

Michael D. Bordo, Anna J. Schwartz

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Monetary policy regimes encompass the constraints or limits imposed by custom, institutions and nature on the ability of the monetary authorities to influence the evolution of macroeconomic aggregates. This chapter surveys the historical experience of both international and domestic (national) aspects of monetary regimes from the nineteenth century to the present. We first survey the experience of four broad international monetary regimes: the classical gold standard 1880-1914; the interwar period in which a short-lived restoration of the gold standard prevailed; the postwar Bretton Woods international monetary system (1946-1971) indirectly linked to gold; the recent managed float period (1971-1995). We then present in some detail the institutional arrangements and policy actions of the Federal Reserve in the United States as an important example of a domestic policy regime. The survey of the Federal Reserve subdivides the demarcated broad international policy regimes into a number of episodes. A salient theme in our survey is that the convertibility rule or principle that dominated both domestic and international aspects of the monetary regime before World War I has since declined in its relevance. At the same time, policymakers within major nations placed more emphasis on stabilizing the real economy. Policy techniques and doctrine that developed under the pre-World War I convertible regime proved to be inadequate to deal with domestic stabilization goals in the interwar period, setting the stage for the Great Depression. In the post-World War II era, the complete abandonment of the convertibility principle, and its replacement by the goal of full employment, combined with the legacy of inadequate policy tools and theory from the interwar period, set the stage for the Great Inflation of the 1970s. The lessons from that experience have convinced monetary authorities to reemphasize the goal of low inflation, as it were, committing themselves to rule-like behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-234
Number of pages86
JournalHandbook of Macroeconomics
Issue numberPART A
StatePublished - 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


  • Bretton Woods
  • Federal Reserve
  • Great Depression
  • Great Inflation of the 1970s
  • convertibility rule
  • difference stationary process
  • domestic policy regime
  • exchange rate arrangements
  • gold standard
  • inflation level
  • inflation persistence
  • inflation variability
  • managed float
  • nominal anchor
  • output level
  • output variability
  • permanent shocks
  • price level uncertainty
  • rules
  • stabilization goals
  • temporary shocks
  • trend stationary process


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