A Program For Monetary Stability by Milton Friedman

By Milton Friedman

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A major aim of policy at the time was to resume gold payments at the pre-war exchange rate. Since world prices were roughly stable or falling, the achievement of this aim required that prices in the United States fall to less than half their level at the price peak in 1865. This is precisely what happened by 1879. Despite the official policy, the price fall was not produced by a reduction in the quantity of money. The most that governmental measures were able to achieve was to keep the money supply from expanding sharply.

The inflation and the accompanying upward pressure on interest rates finally made the prohibition of the payment of interest on demand deposits untenable. That prohibition and the Regulation Q limits on rates on time deposits were abandoned, a step that I recommended in the second lecture. The years that followed can hardly be described as calm: a major expansion from 1983 to 1989 accompanied by generally declining inflation, followed by three years of stagnation. Inflation settled down not far if at all below the level that induced President Nixon to take the drastic measure of imposing price and wage controls but after the intervening years, that rate of inflation is now regarded as relative stability!

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the record is the adaptability and flexibility that the private economy has so frequently shown under such extreme provocation. A brief sketch of some highlights of our monetary experience may illustrate this thesis; it cannot of course prove it. 7 The thesis is almost self-evident for the major inflations of our history. These have all been associated with war and were quite clearly produced by the use of the printing press or its equivalent to finance governmental expenditures.

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