Currency Boards: More than a Quick Fix?
Posted: 27 Nov 2000
Once a popular colonial monetary arrangement, currency boards fell into disuse as countries gained political independence. But recently, currency boards have made a remarkable come-back. This essay takes a critical look at their performance. Are currency boards really a panacea for achieving low inflation and high growth? Or do they merely provide a 'quick fix' allowing authorities to neglect fundamental reforms and thus fail to yield lasting benefits? We have three major findings. First, the historical track record of currency boards is sterling, with few instances of speculative attacks and virtually no 'involuntary? exits. Countries that did exit from currency boards did so mainly for political, rather than economic reasons, and such exits were usually uneventful. Second, modern currency boards have often been instituted to gain credibility following a period of high or hyperinflation, and in this regard, have been remarkably successful. Countries with currency boards experienced lower inflation and higher (if more volatile) GDP growth compared to both floating regimes and simple pegs. The inflation difference reflects both a lower growth rate of money supply (a 'discipline effect'), and a faster growth of money demand (a 'credibility effect'). The GDP growth effect is significant, but may simply reflect a rebound from depressed levels. Third, case studies reveal the successful introduction of a currency board to be far from trivial, requiring lengthy legal and institutional changes, as well as a broad economic and social consensus for the implied commitment. Moreover, there are thorny issues, as yet untested, regarding possible exits from a currency board. Thus currency boards do not provide easy solutions. But if introduced in the right circumstances, with some built-in flexibility, they can be an important tool for gaining credibility and achieving macroeconomic stabilization.
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