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Central bankers to rethink their devotion
December 22, 2012
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NEW YORK: A subtle shift in monetary policymaking is afoot with a new generation of central bankers, striving to secure global economic recovery, prepared to challenge the old doctrine of inflation-fighting at all costs.

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of Canada and soon-to-be head of the Bank of England, may or may not have intended to spark a high-level debate last week over how diligently central banks should fend off inflation.

But he did just that with his speech in Toronto on the BoC’s flexible approach to prices, and his musings on alternative approaches to policy that the Canadian central bank had considered but dismissed.

Within two days, Britain’s finance minister, two BoE policymakers, and numerous economists had weighed in on what Carney’s comments meant for the country and for the future of central banking.

The sharp reaction reflects unease with a change in the way the world’s major central banks approach policy in an era of slow recovery from world economic crisis.

Policymakers from the US Federal Reserve to the Bank of Japan have reconsidered or relaxed their inflation targets - long the raison d’etre of monetary policy - and have given more emphasis to economic growth, even if that is not an official mandate.

“They have reduced their slavish devotion to the sole goal of inflation targeting,” said Carl Tannenbaum, a former Fed official who is now chief economist at US asset manager Northern Trust.

No central banker is going to tolerate an inflation spike in order to boost employment or foster more growth.

Policymakers have also largely dismissed some of the more radical alternatives to achieving their goals, most notably  targeting levels of nominal gross domestic product (real GDP plus inflation).

Yet with the financial crisis having starkly exposed central banks’ failure to stave off danger, and policymakers having responded by flooding world markets with trillions of dollars in cheap funding, a small run-up in inflation may no longer be the anathema it once was.

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