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Effects of Central Bank Independence on Inflation Rates

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Published: Tue, 27 Feb 2018

Abstract

This paper analyses and explains the effects of central bank independence on a country’s inflation rates and its economic performance thereafter. It deals with the benefits believed to come along with independence and the delegation of monetary policy to the central bank, the determinants and accuracy of the index of central bank independence (CBI), and the different impact that CBI has on developed and developing countries. The studies and test conducted have shown that CBI lowers inflation in developed countries but in developing countries it might have the reverse effects, mainly due to the degree of independence, and factors like traditions, the law, and the statue of the economy which vary across countries.

1. Introduction

This paper intends to study the relationship between central bank independence (CBI) and inflation levels among different countries; developing and industrialized. The main research problem that I intend to examine is whether central bank independence can lower the inflation rates of the countries that grant independence to their central banks, and whether this can lead to improved economic performance.

What is discussed in this paper is not only whether central bank independence (CBI) can lower inflation and hence inflation variability, but also whether this can be achieved at low cost. The economies presented in the study include both those of the developed countries, e.g. the U.K., as well as those in transition e.g. Russia that have recently gained entrance in the EU. In this paper I analyze the impact of CBI on inflation, the benefits that are believed to come along with CBI and the factors used in measuring CBI. You will see that CBI can have different forms of measurement that produce slightly different results, hence the effectiveness of the CBI index is also analyzed.

The reason for choosing this topic for further study is simply because during the past two decades there has been a considerable move towards central bank independence across several countries, with the belief that this will improve their inflation levels and thus contribute to economic growth. However, as you will see further on, this is not always the case, as some studies have revealed contradicting results, and economists and academics continue their studies to get a clerer picture of this issue.

2. The Spread of CBI and The Reasons for It

To begin with, it is amazing how fast CBI has spread among countries and governments since the late 1980s. One simple explanation of this spread is A.Alesina’s (1988; 845) statement:

“…independent central banks have been associated with a lower average inflation rate and may have been responsible for reducing politically induced volatility of monetary policy and inflation”

2.1 Should a central bank become independent?

Folder (2005) explains that CBI was adopted to avoid possible disputes between political parties as a central bank is seen as a provider of information. Many economists have expressed their opinion on the spread of CBI; others have linked it to a way of avoiding the blame of political failure by some governmental parties (Miller, G. 1998, White 1994). Others have linked it to the infrequent changes of the government (de Haan and van’t Hag, 1995).

That is, central bank independence in many cases was adopted after periods of high inflation in order to reduce it, due to the inflation targeting function a central bank is capable of pursuing. It can also be associated with the attraction of foreign investment and hence economic growth as a consequence of the targets set and the autonomy with which the bank can then operate (Maxfield, 1997). In countries within the European Union, CBI is a perquisite following the Maastricht Treaty (1992) for adopting the euro currency.

Overall and according to Folder (2005), independence has always been related to the adoption of anti-inflationary measures for pursuing monetary policy, but its explanation lies within …the sociology of the financial elites and the politics legitimizing their policy preferences. The reasons behind achieving price stability through gaining central bank independence, Cukierman (1996) explains are several and include; the breakdown of other institutions like the European Monetary System (EMS) that had been responsible for maintaining price stability which is considered as the single and most significant objective of a central bank.

Ilieva and Gregoriou (2005) suggest that in transition economies central bank independence has increased mainly due to the desire of such countries like e.g. Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, etc., to join the European Union and the acquis communautaire that applicant countries should adopt. As they continue to reason the addiction to CBI, they add that another incentive for CBI is the international financial institutions such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) that require certain criteria to be met before making unconditional loans, and these criteria are feasibly met with the help of CBI. Also, countries are attracted to CBI as this will attract potential investors by improving the nation’s creditworthiness.

Cukierman, A. (1996) analyses developments since the late 1980s to the legal independence of central banks and to its meaning; the measurement of CBI, the interaction of central banks with the government, its effect on the economy, its determinants, etc

According to Cukierman, the trend towards CBI is due to a quest for price stability which is due to the following two reasons:

First, following the stagflation of the seventies and the adverse economic performance of some high inflation countries, in Latin America and elsewhere, conventional wisdom concerning inflation and real growth has changed. Whereas during the sixties the accepted view was in line with Keynesian dogma, that some inflation is good for growth, during the eighties and nineties became that inflation and the associate uncertainties retard growth. (1996; 3)

The good economic performance of Japan and Germany, countries with already low inflation added more value to the above concept.

Second, the rapid growth and internationalization of capital markets raised the importance of price stability as governments and private investors sought to enhance their access to broadening world financial markets. (1996; 3)

2.2 Types of Central Bank Independence

Independence with regards to central banking can be categorized into different groups, depending on the degree of freedom and the subject from which the central bank becomes independent. The major types of independence are;

Legal independence, where the bank is partly accountable to the government and legislation provides a framework within which the central bank and the government cooperate on certain issues. This form of independence varies significantly among countries as it depends on how strong in the law in each country and the degree to which it is followed. However, the degree of legal independence, namely LVAW, as it will be shown below, has been used by many as a major index of measuring the degree of CBI.

Goal independence refers to the case where the central bank is allowed to set its own goals, e.g. price stability, money supply, inflation targeting. However in most cases under this type of independence, the bank will decide on its goals with the confirmation of the relevant governmental departments. In this way, goal independence helps avoiding conflicts among fiscal and monetary policies, and increases the level of transparency and credibility of the central bank over its goals.

Operational independence is the most common form of independence and is followed by many central banks around the world, for instance, the Bank of England since 1997. It involves the government setting the bank’s goals e.g. a 2% level of inflation, but the central bank being free to choose the instruments e.g. interest rates, to meet the targets set by the government.

Another form of independence is managerial independence, by which the central bank has the power of appointing its own stuff, set its budget, etc. This form is a necessity for the existence of the other abovementioned forms of central bank independence and is therefore granted to all central banks that can call themselves independent.

2.3 The case for central bank independence

There is a huge surge towards central bank independence by both the public and the governments, in the belief that independent central banks will not only achieve low inflation rates and price stability, but will subsequently lead to long-term economic growth and development. However CBI is an issue that needs further research before determining whether it should be adopted by all countries. This depends on the economic state of the country, whether it is a developed or a developing country or even on the demand of autonomy by the political parties within the country since by granting independence the government must pass to the bank the responsibilities of e.g. controlling the interest rates, etc. over which it used to have the power.

Another issue that needs to be examined before granting independence to a central bank is the political stability and the degree of uncertainty within the country. This is because in times of uncertainty and instabilities, e.g. prior to elections, the public favours CBI as an independent central bank is more objective in its role and always forward looking without ignoring the long-term effects of its decisions.

The majority of the parties affected by the actions of an independent central bank, i.e. the government as well as the general public are attracted by CBI because of the greater accountability and transparency the bank is equipped with when adopting a greater degree of autonomy. Moreover, it is expected to bring lower levels of inflation and this is the main reason why people welcome CBI and the number of central banks becoming independent has been increasing over the years. The main reason behind this expectation is because a central bank generally acts in favor of the public and in addition to the fact that it becomes free from the government and any political pressures, it is in a position to avoid short-term temptations regarding low interest rates which the government usually uses prior to electoral periods, for the sake of long-term low inflation and price stability, which in combination with other exogenous factors can result in economic growth.

Moreover, when a central bank gains its independence through institutional reform it becomes capable of appointing its own governor thus it moves away from political interference, and can also set an explicit inflation target. Additionally and as Carlstrom, T.C. and Fuerst, S.T. (2006) explain independence helps a central bank in constraining the behavior of fiscal authorities. That is, it can prevent people and especially the government following fiscal policy from acting in their short-term best interests, recognizing that any actions taken in the short-term e.g. lowering the interest rates to attract investments, may become undesirable in the long-term, e.g. rising inflation levels as with higher demand from low interest rates, the prices will likely increase. In this way, CBI also prevents the fiscal authorities from inflating the short-term for delivering e.g. favorable exchange rates. Hence, monetary policy can run in a more credible way and following the targets set, markets will know what to expect thus shocks will be limited.

However an independent central bank is also likely in extreme cases to bring so low levels of inflation that can be harmful to the economy. According to Epstein, G. (2007), the 3.5% drop in inflation levels by countries adopting an inflation-targeting monetary policy (IMF, 2006) is questionable as to whether this decline will improve economic growth. Explicitly, if the inflation level of a country is already low and the central bank adopts an inflation-targeting monetary policy then the resulting lower inflation level might prove dangerous to the economy by generating economic cycles.

Cukierman (1996) has developed two separate approaches for reasoning the urge towards central bank independence and explaining the benefits that can be enjoyed from independence.

These include; the theoretical approach according to which in the short-run monetary policy can be conducted in such a way that it allows for some inflation so that it can achieve employment, high economic activity and low interest rates. Hence, policy makers can expect some degree of inflation which they will present in the form of nominal wage and capital market contracts. In this way however, policy makers will have to keep inflation at a level that would balance the real equilibrium if they had been committed to zero-inflation.

As a result of this discretionary use of monetary policy, this is subject to inflationary bias, and this bias can only be minimised if monetary policy is delegated to an independent central bank because only this institution is free to choose how to operate monetary policy and takes interest mostly if not only to price stability.

And the empirical approach by which the case of CBI lies on empirical evidence showing that countries with an independent central bank have lower inflation rates and higher growth rates per capita output. An example of such a country is New Zealand:

2.3.1 The case of New Zealand

New Zealand is a country whose central bank managed to drop the inflation level after being granted with greater independence. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand was granted independence in 1989 following the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act of 1989 and had therefore established an explicit inflation target.

The result was to reduce inflation levels from 7.6% during the years 1955-1988 from when the reserve bank was not independent, down to just 2.7%, after becoming independent, during the period 1989-2000. The latter rate is now considered one of the lowest among industrialized countries.

It is obvious that among all OPEC countries, the central bank of New Zealand managed to achieve the lowest inflation rate, especially during the 1990s.

What happened during the period of the inflation reduction was that the reserve bank of New Zealand went through a reform that resulted in it being granted with independence and a greater degree of autonomy, leading to low inflation.

Specifically, prior to 1989 it used to be an arm of the government. Monetary policy used to be subject to the ministry of finance and therefore the government. As a result, the level of independence was one of the lowest among industrialized countries, while the level of inflation was of the highest. Even then, the relationship between central bank independence was negative, even though the results were the reverse of what is considered optimum, i.e. greater independence, lower inflation.

In 1989, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act was passed by law. This act codifies inflation targeting and gives more autonomy to the country’s central bank in order to meet its objectives. According to the Act the central bank’s primary function is:

“…to formulate and implement monetary policy directed to the economic objective of achieving and maintaining stability in the general level of prices.” (Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act, 1989 as quoted in Carlstrom T.C. and Fuerst, S.T., 2006, p.3).

The impact of the Act on New Zealand’s economy and specifically the Reserve Bank’s autonomy can be seen in figure 2 below, which compares the degree of independence across different time periods and among different countries.

The findings of the New Zealand case show that if the country had adopted independence earlier then its average inflation rate would be 3.4% rather than 7.6% that it actually used to be, assuming all other things being equal. Following this assumption, CBI itself would be sufficient to reduce worldwide inflation levels from 5.6% down to 3.8%.

Despite the considerable drop in New Zealand’s inflation rate it is still questionable whether this drop was caused solely by CBI, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify by how much the inflation reduction was due to CBI. Firm conclusions cannot be made yet since the data used in this case is of limited sample size and comparisons would therefore be insufficient. What is true is that the relationship between CBI and inflation is similar across time. Any changes to the strength of this relationship are mostly due to macroeconomic and other factors such as the state of the economy, the state of the government, e.g. democracy, etc. and others that will be explained later in this paper.

3. Measuring Central Bank Independence

The degree of CBI for each central bank varies according to the state of each country and to compliance with the law. As Cukierman explains, in developing countries where compliance with the law is poor, a suitable proxy for CBI would be the turnover of central bank governors, whereas in industrialised countries such a proxy would be legal independence. Generally, when the appropriate index of independence is used, the results indicate an inverse relationship between CBI and inflation.

However, care should be taken not to mistake legal independence with actual independence, as legal independence is necessary but does not guarantee actual independence; …legal independence is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for a truly independent CB. (Cukierman, A., 2001; 7). Exceptions exist, like developed countries, where legal independence seems to be a good proxy because law is highly complied.

For a clearer picture of the effectiveness of CBI on the economy, it is preferred that some variables that make up the CBI index are used in combination, or that some indices are used only for a specific purpose. For instance, legal independence is a good proxy for actual independence in developed countries rather than in developing ones.

3.1 The Cukierman Index of CBI

The method that will be used the most in this paper to measure the degree of central bank independence and its relationship with inflation will be Cukierman Index (1992), the most widely accepted and used index for this purpose. Initially, the exact definition of the Cukierman Index according to Siklos, P. (1992; 65) is: An indicator of the degree of autonomy enjoyed by several central banks.

Cukierman Index to demonstrate graphically the measures of CBI and inflation during two different decades, namely the 1980s and the 1990s:

As can be seen in the above graphs during the 1980s even though CBI was not common across countries, there was a negative relationship between CBI and inflation level. This means that the greater the level of independence of a central bank, the lower the level of inflation within the particular country. It is thus obvious that the correlation between CBI and inflation is negative, whereas the errors overall are not fitted closely on the regression line. We should note however that the decade of 1980s was before central banks especially those within industrialized countries underwent major reforms in their statutes which then allowed them a greater degree of autonomy.

During the 1990s as Siklos, P. (2002) explains, most central banks went through a reform, as there was a trend towards CBI. As a result the overall degree of CBI increased and all index values were revised upwards, the government granting more autonomy to central banks, in the belief that greater independence would just be adequate for lowering the level of inflation.

However, the relationship between CBI and inflation during the 1990s turned out to be the reverse of that of the previous decade. That is, the correlation between CBI-inflation now became weaker but positive since the regression line on the scatter gram in figure 3b has an upward slope, meaning that inflation increases with the degree of independence. It is hard to explain what was wrong with the findings of the 1990s that caused the correlation to be positive, however one might argue that CBI increased for all countries during the 1990s and so it also reflects the inflation performance of the previous decade, although the more independent central banks have delivered lower inflation levels in the 1980s.

Furthermore, the Cukierman Index used is believed to contain some inaccuracies concerning the measurements of the degree on independence and thereafter the relationship of that with inflation because it was extended from the 1980s towards the 1990s in a different way than the one initially specified. For this reason more tests will be carried out to explain and compare the effectiveness of measuring CBI using the Cukierman Index in contrast to other indices developed for the same purpose, for instance Alesina and Summer’s Index.

The Cukierman Index will also be used to test the effect of CBI on inflation in transition economies, based on Ilieva and Gregoriou (2005) paper regarding inflation performance, i.e. average inflation and inflation variance, and CBI in transition economies during the period 1991-2003.

3.2 The determinants of the CBI index

The degree of independence varies across countries. This is not only due to factors such as the type of independence of each bank, although the most common is operational independence, the degree of law compliance in each country, and tradition, but some other systematic factors as well. Such factors are described and categorized by Cukierman, who presents some hypotheses on these factors:

Hypotheses about the determinants of CBI

Initially, it is widely accepted that any form of inflationary bias raises the independence of central banks to the degree that politicians wish to grant to the CB. The main idea behind this concept is that the benefits of delegating monetary policy to an independent central bank will be higher when inflation bias is higher in instances of e.g. employment reaction to inflation shocks. This delegation according to Cukierman helps in preventing the competing political party from taking on activities not favoured by the government.

Secondly, Cukierman et al (1992, 2001) make the hypothesis that:

“…the wider are the financial markets and the more elastic the supply of funds to government with respect to the interest rate, the more likely is the CB to be independent.” (2001; 19).

Additionally, Maxfield (1995) supports that political authorities favour CBI where there is need for funds. When this need is high as he explains, the government delegates more authority to the central bank in order to signal the nation’s creditworthiness.

Finally, the cases of countries that have experienced extremely high levels of inflation in the past, like Germany, Austria, and Brazil, show that such countries are more likely to delegate independence to a central bank so that politicians do not interfere with monetary policy.

3.3 The measurement of the CBI Index

Due to the widespread concept that the degree of independence of a nation’s central bank plays a crucial role upon the policy actions and inflation, Cukierman (1992) presents an analysis of the effects of CBI on inflation and provides various indicators of CBI. However, as he explains, the degree of CBI is determined by several factors from legal to cultural some of which are difficult to measure and quantify, therefore the impact of CBI on inflation varies among countries and there is a certain degree of uncertainty about the level of CBI. As a result, the measurement and the creation of an index of CBI have been based on legal independence, as the degree of CBI also depends on the degree of independence granted to the bank by the law.

Despite the variations in the degree of CBI, it can be deduced that a low degree of CBI is linked with higher levels of inflation and inflation variability, while the level of credibility of a central bank with a low degree of CBI will be lower.

Cukierman presents three different sets of indicators of CBI; a proxy for legal independence and proxies for the deviations of actual from legal independence. Independence measured under these proxies is limited specifically to the Central bank’s ability to meet a single objective; price stability. The reason for using several proxies in measuring CBI is because each proxy … is a noisy indicator that captures a somewhat different aspect of CB independence’ (Cukierman, 1992; 370), so using a combination of them reduces this noisiness of the overall measure

3.3.1 Measuring and Coding Legal Central Bank Independence

Using a proxy of legal independence is vital in making comparisons with previous studies on the impact of CBI on economic issues because all existing attempts on the features of an independent central bank rely on the bank’s legal independence.

Cukierman presents the indices of legal aspects of CBI by separating into four groups the variables which make for a legally independent central bank. These groups are:

Chief executive officer: CEO Policy formulation: PF

Final Objectives: OBJ Limitations on lending: LLand codes them by the degree of independence of each group for the central bank of each of the countries included in the study.

The main assumptions made are; the central banks whose single objective is price stability are considered to be more independent, so are central banks with stricter limitations on lending from the CB. The coding involves sixteen different variables in a scale from 0 (least independence) to 1 (maximum independence), during the time period 1950-1989, separated into four different decades.

Due to the narrow definition of each of the variables used and the consequent lack of precision and multicollinearity problems that may arise, these variables are aggregated into eight legal variables by just calculating the unweighted mean of the codings used.

Furthermore, it is necessary to have an additional single index of legal independence for each country to assess the aggregate legal independence of the CB. This index can have two alternatives, the LVAU and the LVAW, that are computed by calculating the average of the codings of the first eight variables as described above. Table 1 in Appendix A shows the ranking of the countries according to the legal independence of their central banks as measured by the LVAU during the eighties decade. The LVAW would also give a similar picture.

Looking at the table of results one can see that among the seven most highly-ranked countries four are developed (Switzerland, West Germany, Austria and U.S.), while among the seven least-ranked countries four are less developed (Morocco, Panama, Yugoslavia and Poland). Generally, the top 10% of the rankings is comprised of developed countries, whereas the bottom 10% is concentrated with less developed countries. One should also note that there had been no hyperinflation experienced by developed countries during the 1980s, while some of the Latin America countries have, e.g. Brazil and Bolivia with a rate of 230%. This according to Cukierman may suggest that legal CBI may be neither necessary nor sufficient for low inflation. (1992; 382).

3.3.2 The turnover rate of Central Bank governors as a proxy for actual independence

As already explained, the legal status of the central bank is just one of the several determinants of actual CBI. There is no clear systematic indicator of actual CBI, but Cukierman (1992) presents two sets of such indicators. One is based on the actual turnover rate of the central bank’s governor, and the other is based on the answers given to a questionnaire on CBI.

Table 2 in Appendix B shows the CB governors’ turnover rates for the period 1980-1989. It is assumed that the lower the turnover rate the higher the degree of actual independence. Although the results are chronologically old, it is obvious that turnover rates in less developed countries occupy a range that has never been experienced by developed countries. It is indicative that more than half of the less developed countries have a turnover rate higher than the maximum of the rate of developed countries. It is clear that less developed countries experience higher inflation rates, on the grounds of lower actual CBI.

On the other hand, low turnover does not necessarily imply a high level of CB independence on the grounds that a relatively subservient governor will tend to stay in office longer than a governor who stands up to the executive branch. (Cukierman, 1992; 385)

Critically assessing the results, since the maximum turnover rate for developed countries is 0.2 (.e. five years) suggests that the turnover proxy may not be effective proxies for actual CBI for the sample of developed countries, whereas this proxy can be considered indicative for the sample of developing countries since these have turnover rates exceeding 0.2.

3.3.3 Central Bank Independence from answers to a questionnaire

Another aspect of characterizing CBI is the questionnaire. Under this method, answers were obtained from qualified central bankers from twenty-four countries during the period 1980-1989. The main questions asked covered the issues of; legal independence, final monetary policy objectives, monetary policy instruments, actual independence and its divergence from the law and intermediate targets and their indicators.

In coding the variables of the questionnaire, the bank is assumed to be more independent, all other things being equal, if the following hold; the term of office of the CB governor is longer than that of the government, limitations exist on lending from the CB which the government is in no position of altering, and in cases where stock targets exist because these mean that the CB is more free to meet its price stability target.

Table 3 in Appendix C shows the ranking of central banks by aggregate indices of independence according to questionnaire responses. The aggregate indices of QVAU and QVAW reflect the law and the way it is implemented in practice respectively, as well as important information about actual independence, and are very similar (Ï?=0.99). The rankings agree to earlier studies that central banks of developed countries are more independent. However, the median of QVAU for developed countries, that is 0.6 for Britain and Lebanon, is greater than the median for less developed countries, that is 0.49 for Uruguay, and this contradicts the above findings for legal independence using the LVAU.

When measuring the degree of CBI it should be taken into account that the measures used above fail to quantify all the aspects of CBI as some are difficult to quantify. Such aspects are the quality of the bank’s research department and its standing in comparison to other economic research institutions within the public sector (Cukierman, 1992). Independence is generally higher in countries with highly-developed financial markets according to Cukierman because the supervision of financial institutions is under the authority of the CB, so the larger the market the more wide the span of the CB’s authority.

4. Central Bank Independence and Inflation Targeting

In this section the impact of central bank independence on inflation, inflation variability and the economy overall is analyzed using a model to test whether CBI can actually lower inflation, and comparing the effects of CBI by using both the Cukierman and the Alesina indices of CBI. Additionally, the costs of achieving lower inflation through central bank independence are also explained.

MacCallum, B. (1995) believes that it is strong will that is necessary for proper policy behaviour by central banks, not rules and regulations. A policy maker, i.e. a central banker in this case should act immediately to an inflation shock to restore the problem without letting any sp


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