Contractionary monetary policy

Contractionary monetary policy is monetary policy that seeks to reduce the size of the money supply. In most nations, monetary policy is controlled by either a central bank or a finance ministry.

New classical and Keynesian economics significantly differ on the effects and effectiveness of monetary policy on influencing the real economy; there is no clear consensus on how monetary policy affects real economic variables (aggregate output or income, employment). Both economic schools accept that monetary policy affects monetary variables (price levels, interest rates).

Monetary policy relies on a number of tools: monetary base, reserve requirements, discount window lending and interest rates.


Policy tools

Monetary base

Contractionary policy can be implemented by reducing the size of the monetary base. This directly reduces the total amount of money circulating in the economy.

A central bank can use open market operations to reduce the monetary base. The central bank would typically sell bonds in exchange for hard currency. When the central bank collects this hard currency payment, it removes that amount of currency from the economy, thus contracting the monetary base.

Reserve requirements

The monetary authority exerts regulatory control over banks. Contractionary policy can be implemented by requiring banks to hold a higher proportion of their total assets in reserve. Banks only maintain a small portion of their assets as cash available for immediate withdrawal; the rest is invested in illiquid assets like mortgages and loans. By requiring a higher proportion of total assets to be held as liquid cash, a central bank or finance ministry reduces the availability of loanable funds. This acts as a reduction in the money supply.

Discount window lending

Many central banks or finance ministries have the authority to lend funds to financial institutions within their country. By calling in existing loans the central bank can directly reduce the size of the money supply. By advertising that the discount window will be reduced for future lending, the central bank can also indirectly reduce the money supply by reducing risk-taking by financial institutions.

Interest rates

The contraction of the monetary supply can be achieved indirectly by increasing the nominal interest rates.

Monetary authorities in different nations have differing levels of control of economy-wide interest rates. In the United States, the Federal Reserve can set the federal funds rate by open market operations. This rate has significant effect on other market interest rates, but there is no perfect relationship. In the United States open market operations are a relatively small part of the total volume in the bond market.

In other nations, the monetary authority may be able to mandate specific interest rates on loans, savings accounts or other financial assets. By raising the interest rate(s) under its control, a monetary authority can contract the money supply, because higher interest rates encourage savings and discourage lending. Both of these effects reduce the size of the money supply.

Monetary policy and inflation

Monetary policy can be used to control inflation. Inflation is defined as continuing increases in price levels. Since price level is a monetary variable, monetary policy can affect it. Contractionary monetary policy has the effect of reducing inflation by reducing upward pressure on price levels.

Note that inflation can also be affected by fiscal policy. However, contractionary fiscal policy is often politically unpopular, because it involves spending cuts and tax increases. Thus, politicians favor the use of monetary policy to control inflation.

Monetary policy and the real economy

As noted above, the relationship between monetary policy and the real economy is uncertain. It is important to note that contractionary monetary policy should not be confused with economic contraction (the latter being a reduction in economic output in the real economy).


See also

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