At last, an interesting twist in the story of monetary policy

Philip Booth writes on the Shadow MPC and interest rates decisions in the Yorkshire Post

THE Governor of the Bank of England once famously said that monetary policy should be boring. In other words, monetary policy should be run in such a way that changes in interest rates are reasonably predictable, relatively infrequent and so that inflation and interest rates do not get out of hand.

Certainly, monetary policy is not nearly as "interesting" as it was 15 years ago when Britain was fighting to stay in the ERM, interest rates were routinely in double figures and bankruptcies were running at record levels. Nevertheless, recent rises in inflation and interest rates have led some people to worry about what lies ahead.

Although the particular measure of inflation that the Bank of England targets is three per cent, we should remember that the more general measure of inflation – targeted by the Bank of England until the Chancellor changed the target for purely political reasons – is running at 3.8 per cent. It is clear from the Bank of England's research and public pronouncements that it did not expect recent increases in inflation to happen.

So what has gone wrong?

We can get some clues by looking at the minutes of the Institute of Economic Affairs's Shadow Monetary Policy Committee. It has been well ahead of the Bank of England in being concerned about inflation and has wanted interest rates to rise for several months.

Like the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), our group is also a committee – so members do have different views. Some, such as Professor Patrick Minford, have a bias to cut rates in the near future. However, the majority have been concerned about inflation for some time. And they believe the danger signal is the growing money supply.

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, accepts Milton Friedman's old adage that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon", but most of the Bank of England's economists do not trust the monetary data enough to bring it into their models of future inflation.

Many of our members, on the other hand, became very worried when the growth rate of broad money rose from nine to 14 per cent in the two years to mid-2006. It is very difficult to model whether a 100mph gale will capsize a particular boat. But if there is a 100mph gale, you should react, probably by getting back to shore.

Similarly with the money supply