What Is the Neutrality of Money?
The neutrality of money, also called neutral money, is an economic theory stating that changes in the money supply only affect nominal variables and not real variables. In other words, the amount of money printed by the Federal Reserve (Fed) and central banks can impact prices and wages but not the output or structure of the economy.
Modern versions of the theory accept that changes in the money supply might affect output or unemployment levels in the short run; however, many of today’s economists still believe that neutrality is assumed in the long run after money circulates throughout the economy.
- The neutrality of money theory claims that changes in the money supply affect the prices of goods, services, and wages but not overall economic productivity.
- The theory states that changes in the supply of money do not alter the underlying conditions of the economy and, therefore, aggregate supply should remain constant.
- Some economists only agree that the theory of neutrality works over the long term. The assumption of long-run money neutrality underlies almost all macroeconomic theory.
- Critics of the neutrality of money believe that it increases prices and therefore impacts consumption and production.
- The phrase “neutrality of money” was introduced by Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek in 1931.
Understanding the Neutrality of Money
The neutrality of money theory is based on the idea that money is a “neutral” factor that has no real effect on economic equilibrium. Printing more money cannot change the fundamental nature of the economy, even if it drives up demand and leads to an increase in the prices of goods, services, and wages.
According to the theory, all markets for all goods clear continuously. Relative prices adjust flexibly and always towards equilibrium. Changes in the supply of money do not appear to change the underlying conditions in the economy. New money neither creates nor destroys machines, and it does not introduce new trading partners or affect existing knowledge and skill. As a result, aggregate supply should remain constant.
Not every economist agrees with this way of thinking and those who do generally believe that the neutrality of money theory is only truly applicable over the long term. In fact, the assumption of long-run money neutrality underlies almost all macroeconomic theory. Mathematical economists rely on this classical dichotomy to predict the effects of economic policy.
An example of the neutrality of money can be seen if a macroeconomist is studying the monetary policy of a central bank, such as the Federal Reserve (Fed). When the Fed engages in open market operations, the macroeconomist does not assume that changes in the money supply will change future capital equipment, employment levels, or real wealth in long-run equilibrium. Those factors will remain constant. This gives the economist a much more stable set of predictive parameters.
Neutrality of Money History
Conceptually, money neutrality grew out of the Cambridge tradition in economics between 1750 and 1870. The earliest version posited that the level of money could not affect output or employment even in the short run. Because the aggregate supply curve is presumed to be vertical, a change in the price level does not alter the aggregate output.
Adherents believed shifts in the money supply affect all goods and services proportionately and nearly simultaneously. However, many of the classical economists rejected this notion and believed short-term factors, such as price stickiness or depressed business confidence, were sources of non-neutrality.
The phrase “neutrality of money” was eventually coined by Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek in 1931. Originally, Hayek defined it as a market rate of interest at which malinvestments—poorly allocated business investments according to Austrian business cycle theory—did not occur and did not produce business cycles. Later, neoclassical and neo-Keynesian economists adopted the phrase and applied it to their general equilibrium framework, giving it its current meaning.
Neutrality of Money vs. Superneutrality of Money
There is an even stronger version of the neutrality of money postulate: the superneutrality of money. Superneutrality further assumes that changes in the rate of money supply growth do not affect economic output. Money growth has no impact on real variables except for real money balances. This theory disregards short-run frictions and is pertinent to an economy accustomed to a constant money growth rate.
Criticism of the Neutrality of Money
The neutrality of money theory has attracted criticism from some quarters. Many notable economists reject the concept in the short and long run, including John Maynard Keynes, Ludwig von Mises, and Paul Davidson. The post-Keynesian school and Austrian school of economics also dismiss it. Several econometric studies suggest that variations in the money supply affect relative prices over long periods of time.
The primary argument states that as the money supply increases, the value of money decreases. Eventually, as the increased supply of money spreads throughout the economy, the prices of goods and services will increase in order to reach a point of equilibrium by counteracting the increase of the money supply.
Critics also argue that an increase in the supply of money impacts consumption and production. Because an increase in the supply of money increases prices, this increase in price alters how individuals and businesses interact with the economy.