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The Great Inflation of the Seventies: What Really Happened?

This paper revisits the issue of what factors motivated the macroeconomic policies that led to the Great Inflation of the 1970s. A satisfactory explanation must be consistent with (1) the estimated monetary policy reaction function; (2) the timing patterns relating monetary policy developments and inflation; and (3) the record of economic views (manifested in statements by policymakers and prominent financial commentators). It is argued that the monetary policy neglect hypothesis—which claims that policymakers took a nonmonetary view of the inflation process—meets all three criteria. Other explanations are ruled out, with one exception (the output gap mismeasurement hypothesis), which supplements the monetary policy neglect hypothesis. This conclusion is based on a study of the Great Inflation in both the U.K. and the U.S., and draws on both quantitative and archival evidence, particularly news coverage.

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