Since 1990, a number of countries have adopted inflation targeting as their declared monetary strategy. Interpretations of the significance of this movement, however, have differed widely. To some, inflation targeting mandates the single-minded, rule-like pursuit of price stability without regard for other policy objectives; to others, inflation targeting represents nothing more than the latest version of cheap talk by central banks unable to sustain monetary commitments. Advocates of inflation targeting, including the adopting central banks themselves, have expressed the view that the efforts at transparency and communication in the inflation targeting framework grant the central bank greater short-run flexibility in pursuit of its long-run inflation goal. This paper assesses whether the talk that inflation targeting central banks engage in matters to central bank behavior, and which interpretation of the strategy is consistent with that assessment. We identify five distinct interpretations of inflation targeting, consistent with various strands of the current literature, and identify those interpretations as movements between various strategies in a conventional model of time-inconsistency in monetary policy. The empirical implications of these interpretations are then compared to the response of central banks to movements in inflation of three countries that adopted inflation targets in the early 1990s: The United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. For all three, the evidence shows a break in the behavior of inflation consistent with a strengthened commitment to price stability. In no case, however, is there evidence that the strategy entails a single-minded pursuit of the inflation target. For the U.K., the results are consistent with the successful implementation the optimal state-contingent rule, thereby combining flexibility and credibility; similarly, New Zealand's improved inflation performance was achieved without a discernable increase in counter-inflationary conservatism. The results for Canada are less clear, perhaps reflecting the broader fiscal and international developments affecting the Canadian economy during this period.
inflation targeting credibility monetary policy central banking