Central Bank Activism

82 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2021 Last revised: 21 Mar 2022

See all articles by Christina Parajon Skinner

Christina Parajon Skinner

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); EUSFIL Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence

Date Written: February 1, 2021


Today, the Federal Reserve is at a critical juncture in its evolution. Unlike any prior period in U.S. history, the Fed now faces increasing demands to expand its policy objectives to tackle a wide range of social and political problems—including climate change, income and racial inequality, and foreign and small business aid.

This Article develops a framework for recognizing, and identifying the problems with, “central bank activism.” It refers to central bank activism as situations in which immediate public policy problems push central banks to aggrandize their power beyond the text and purpose of their legal mandates, which Congress has established. To illustrate, the Article provides in-depth exploration of both contemporary and historic episodes of central bank activism, thus clarifying the indicia of central bank activism and drawing out the lessons that past episodes should teach us going forward.

The Article urges that, while activism may be expedient in the near term, there are long-term social costs. Activism undermines the legitimacy of central bank authority, erodes its political independence, and ultimately renders a weaker central bank. In the end, the Article issues an urgent call to resist the allure of activism. And it places front and center the need for vibrant public discourse on the role of a central bank in American political and economic life today.

Keywords: central banks, Federal Reserve, law and macroeconomics

Suggested Citation

Skinner, Christina Parajon, Central Bank Activism (February 1, 2021). Duke Law Journal, Vol. 71, 2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3817123

Christina Parajon Skinner (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
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1000 Brussels

EUSFIL Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence ( email )


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