A Reconsideration of the Doctrinal Foundations of Monetary-Policy Rules: Fisher versus Chicago

Friday, May 1, 2020

Economics Working Paper 20103

Abstract: There has long been a presumption that the price-level-stabilization frameworks of Irving Fisher and Chicagoans Henry Simons and Lloyd Mints were essentially equivalent. I show that there were subtle, but important, differences in the rationales underlying the policies of Fisher and the Chicagoans. Fisher’s framework involved substantial discretion in the setting of the policy instruments; for the Chicagoans the objective of a policy rule was to tie the hands of the authorities in order to reduce discretion and, thus, monetary-policy uncertainty. In contrast to Fisher, the Chicagoans provided assessments of the workings of alternative rules, assessed various criteria -- including simplicity and reduction of political pressures -- in the specification of rules, and concluded that rules would provide superior performance compared with discretion. Each of these characteristics provided a direct link to the rules-based framework of Milton Friedman. Like Friedman’s framework, Simons’s preferred rule targeted a policy instrument.

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