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The Missing Politics of Central Banks  

PS: Political Science and Politics, 2018, Vol. 51(4). October. 737–742.

Christopher Adolph

Two persistent blind spots have led political economists to treat the study of central banks as separate from broader political science questions: first, political scientists have tended to conceive of central bankers as neutral technocrats instead of political actors with varied motivations and beliefs; and second, they have assumed that an optimal monetary policy exists independent of distributional considerations. In reality, central banks are implicated in the politics of inequality in ways that are often underappreciated. First, quantitative easing policies salvaged and magnified the economic and political power of banks. Second, central banks’ asymmetric concern for inflation weakens the bargaining power of labor and ratchets up the gap between rich and poor with every passing economic cycle. Third, powerful, independent central banks rescued elected governments facing economic crises from the hard fiscal choices – and redistributive decisions – that those crises would otherwise have forced upon them. By pretending that monetary policy has no distributional effects, central banks undermine their own legitimacy and claim to political neutrality. As public trust in their neutrality declines, central banks such as the Federal Reserve will be forced to reconsider the distributional effects of monetary policy or risk losing political support for their independence.

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