Sociology Index


Monetarism is an economic theory advocating that governments use interest rates and control of the supply of money for the purpose of economic regulation. Monetarism is in contrast to Keynesian economics which advocates taxation and budgetary policy or fiscal policy.

Monetarism is closely associated with neo-conservatism, a version of liberalism that stresses free markets and individualism rather than the welfare state vision that had become dominant in most western societies. Use of monetary instruments for economic regulation is said to provide a lever to influence macro-economic cycles in the economy, while avoiding bureaucratic regulation or distortions of market forces.

Monetarism is the economic doctrine established by Milton Friedman, that the money supply, the total amount of money circulating in an economy, whether as currency or bank balances, is the chief controller of the level of economic activity. Monetarism has become the dominant framework of theory in both academic economics and public policy.

There is controversy over the role of monetarist policies in the current deficit problems of most of the worlds' largest economies.

Friedman’s monetarism became popular in Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s U.S.A., in the 1970s and early 1980s after the failure of Keynesian policies after the breakdown of the Bretton Woods arrangements in 1968-71.

Friedman was a pragmatist who rejected the idea of any “realistic” theory of economic action, and instead sought simply to provide governments with a lever with which to control the economy. The Keynesian policies of post-World War Two capitalism was essentially a retreat from confrontation with the working class. This had led to governments becoming “addicted” to debt while inflation grew faster and faster. Capitalism turned to monetarism for a macroeconomic policy to manage the counter-attack.

The idea of monetarism is that if the money supply is restricted, then prices must fall and/or the rate of circulation of money must go down; that is, restricting the supply of money and credit could be used by the government to cut inflation and increase unemployment.

Monetarism proved to be sheer witchcraft, and by the end of the 1980s monetarism was abandoned. In the meantime, it had provided the theoretical framework for plunging the world economy into permanent recession in order to break the resistance of the organized working class.

Macroeconomic policies were considered too crude an instrument to resolve a crisis whose roots lay deeper. Monetarism was supplanted by a variety of policies, such as “Micro-Economic Reform”, which emphasized the need to tackle the resistance of the working class in “hand to hand fighting” so to speak, with union-busting, unemployment, tougher management methods and divide-and-rule practices in the workplace.

The Success of the Fed and the Death of Monetarism
N. Kindan Kishor and Levis A. Kochin
Monetarists blamed fluctuations in inflation on excessively volatile growth in monetary aggregates. The data supported this hypothesis until 1982. Since 1983 monetary aggregates have been essentially uncorrelated with subsequent inflation in the U.S.. Kochin (1973) argued that well designed monetary policy would lead to zero correlation between any measure of monetary policy and subsequent inflation. We modify Kochin's criterion showing that if the effects of fluctuations in monetary aggregates were not precisely known then optimal policy would produce negative correlations between monetary aggregate and inflation. We find that in the period 1960-1982 the variance in the growth rate of monetary base in the US was too large, and in fact, destabilizing. However, from 1983 to 2003 variations in the monetary base growth rate were just right.

THOMAS MAYER, Professor, University of California Davis 
This reply to Franco Modigliani's (1988) criticism of monetarism is not a consensual monetarist response but merely the reaction of a moderate monetarist or, perhaps I should say, a monetarist fellow traveler. Specifically, I comment on how Modigliani defines monetarism, how he treats stabilization policy, the lesson he draws from the 1980s monetary experience, and how he treats the velocity adjusted monetary growth rate rule.

Recently proposed strategies for employing market price indicators as guides to monetary policy embody many key propositions of monetarism. Moreover, market price advocates' prescribed policy instruments and operating procedures for conducting monetary policy are not inconsistent with a monetarist perspective and fully incorporate the incentive structure of the money creation process. The market price approach differs from monetarism in three key areas: the data employed to measure intermediate indicators, the environments in which the approach works, and the policy role of the dollar. More specifically, the market price approach employs data that are readily available in unrevised form and that make better use of limited information than do monetary or reserve data. The approach produces the same results as does a monetarist approach when money demand is stable, and it produces monetarists' desired stable price results when money demand is unstable.

MANCUR OLSON, University of Maryland 
Though there is consensus among economists about microeconomic theory, neither the Keynesian nor the Monetarist theory of macroeconomics has attracted a consensus, presumably because neither is compelling enough to persuade the skeptical. A new approach to the subject that combines insights from each of the familiar schools with considerations that both schools have overlooked is accordingly offered here. This argument accepts the evidence that involuntary unemployment and depressions sometimes occur and thus rejects the finding of the new classical or equilibrium macroeconomics, that markets always clear and that all individuals and firms are in equilibrium. It also rejects the Keynesian assumption of wages or prices arbitrarily fixed at disequilibrium levels, and insists that any adequate theory must show what interests are served by the existence of involuntary unemployment.

Monetarism and the Masses 
Denmark and Economic Integration in Europe 
Martin Marcussen, Mette Zolner 
The purpose of the article is to find out more about the informal rules that constrain the protagonists in a public discursive field. What are the rules? Under what conditions do they change? What consequences do they have for the way in which political elites frame their messages? With regard to the first question, we focus on the Danish Economic Monetary Union (EMU) referendum and identify rules at two different levels of analysis: causal ideas at the level of elites and deep-rooted cultural values at the level of the masses. In answering the second question about ideational change, we conclude that elite ideas pertaining to macro-economic policy-making are most likely to change in short periods that are generally perceived to be crisis situations.

News-Magazine Monetarism 
EDWARD NELSON - Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis - Research Division; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) 
CEPR Discussion Paper No. 3506 
Abstract: This Paper examines some recent monetary policy debates, in light of commentary on those issues contained in some of the work of Milton Friedman. The specific aspect of Friedman's work considered here is the commentary on monetary policy in his Newsweek magazine columns from 1966 to 1984. (1) In contrast to claims made in the VAR literature, the analysis of monetary policy and the business cycle by Friedman and other critics of monetary policy in the 1960s and 1970s did not assume that the money supply was exogenous, or contend that monetary policy shocks were the dominant source of cyclical fluctuations. Rather, the criticism was of the destabilizing tendency of the monetary policy feedback rule followed in those decades. (2) There is support for the argument of Orphanides (2000a) that many monetary policy prescriptions by commentators in the 1970s were based on over-optimistic estimates of the growth rate of productive potential.

IS-LM and Monetarism 
MICHAEL D. BORDO, Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
ANNA J. SCHWARTZ, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) - General; City University of New York 
Abstract: This paper discusses monetarist objections to the IS-LM model. We explore the views of two principal spokesmen for monetarism: Milton Friedman and the team of Karl Brunner and Allan Meltzer. Friedman did not explicitly state the reasons he generally chose not to use the IS-LM model in rejecting Keynesian views on the demand function for money, the role of autonomous expenditures in cyclical fluctuations, the potency of fiscal policy as against monetary policy, etc.

David Laidler on Monetarism
Michael Bordo, Anna J. Schwartz
Abstract: David Laidler has been a major player in the development of the monetarist tradition. As the monetarist approach lost influence on policy makers he kept defending the importance of many of its principles.