One of main features of the 'counter-revolution' in economics
which has resulted in the revival of classical liberal ideas has
been a change in views about government's ability to control the
economy. 'Fiscal fine tuning' is virtually discredited and
monetary policy is no longer seen as a means of stimulating
employment. Not just theory, but experience in many countries
demonstrates that unemployment cannot for long be held
below its 'natural' rate by monetary expansion. The proper role
of monetary -authorities is now generally regarded as keeping
the general price level under control.
As economists' views have changed and attention has
switched from employment-promotion to price stability, so
inflation has been checked in many countries to the extent that
zero inflation now appears an achievable goal. But is a stable
price level the ideal? That is the fundamental question which
Professor George Selgin asks in Hobart Paper 132.
Professor Selgin argues instead for a monetary policy which
would allow prices to vary with movements in productivity
(either labour or total factor productivity). Rather than
attempting to keep the general price level constant, a
'productivity norm' policy would permit that level to change to
reflect variations in unit costs of production. The consequence,
as Selgin points out, would in recent times have been year-onyear
price declines rather than the inflation which has been
experienced. In the 30 years after the Second World War, for
example, United States consumer prices would have halved
instead of almost tripling.
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