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IB DP Economics Study Notes

3.5.1 Types of Monetary Policy

Monetary policy plays a critical role in managing economic stability and growth by influencing the availability and cost of money. It's crucial to understand the differing natures and impacts of the types of monetary policies, namely expansionary and contractionary policies, and the integral role of open market operations and interest rates in their implementation. Additionally, it's important to be aware of the limitations of monetary policy that can affect its effectiveness.

A diagram illustrating monetary policy

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Expansionary vs Contractionary Monetary Policy

Expansionary Monetary Policy

Objective: Expansionary monetary policy aims to combat unemployment and stimulate economic growth by increasing the money supply or reducing the cost of borrowing—interest rates.

Implementation Tools

  • Open Market Operations: The central bank purchases government securities to inject money into the banking system. This is a key tool of monetary policy used to manage economic activity.
  • Interest Rate Adjustment: Interest rates are lowered to encourage borrowing and investment.
  • Discount Rate Adjustment: The rate at which banks can borrow from the central bank is reduced.
  • Reserve Requirements: The amount of money banks are required to hold in reserve is lowered.


  • Increased Consumer Spending: Lower interest rates reduce the cost of borrowing, encouraging consumers to spend more.
  • Increased Investment: Lower borrowing costs make it more attractive for firms to invest in new projects.
  • Potential for Inflation: If demand significantly exceeds supply, it can lead to inflation.

Contractionary Monetary Policy

Objective: Contractionary monetary policy is employed to reduce inflation by decreasing the money supply or raising interest rates.

Implementation Tools

  • Open Market Operations: The central bank sells government securities to absorb excess money from the banking system.
  • Interest Rate Adjustment: Interest rates are increased to curb excessive spending and investment.
  • Discount Rate Adjustment: The rate at which banks can borrow from the central bank is increased.
  • Reserve Requirements: The amount of money banks are required to hold in reserve is increased.
IB Economics Tutor Tip: Understanding monetary policy's impact requires recognising the balance between stimulating growth and controlling inflation, highlighting the central bank's critical role in economic stability through strategic interest rate adjustments.


  • Reduced Consumer Spending: Higher interest rates increase borrowing costs, discouraging consumer spending.
  • Reduced Investment: With higher interest rates, companies may find it too expensive to invest in new projects.
  • Inflation Control: By curbing demand, price levels are stabilised.

To understand the broader context, considering the limitations of fiscal policy can provide insights into the interplay between monetary and fiscal policies.

A table comparing expansionary and contractionary monetary policies

Image courtesy of economicsonline

Open Market Operations

Definition and Objective

Open Market Operations are the buying and selling of government securities by the central bank to control the money supply and, subsequently, influence economic activity.

An infographic illustrating open market operations

Image courtesy of stlouisfed

Buying Securities

When the central bank buys government securities, it is employing an expansionary monetary policy tool.


  • Increase in Money Supply: More money in the banking system lowers interest rates.
  • Economic Stimulation: Lower interest rates promote borrowing and spending by consumers and businesses.

Selling Securities

When the central bank sells government securities, it is employing a contractionary monetary policy tool.


  • Decrease in Money Supply: Less money in the banking system raises interest rates.
  • Economic Curtailment: Higher interest rates deter borrowing and spending, cooling off economic activity.

Interest Rates


Interest rates, determined by the central bank, represent the cost of borrowing or the reward for saving, which influences spending and investment decisions in the economy. The role of interest rates in monetary policy is pivotal in achieving economic stability.

Lowering Interest Rates

This is an expansionary measure aimed at stimulating economic activity.


  • Increased Aggregate Demand: Lower interest rates encourage consumer spending and business investment, driving up demand for goods and services.
  • Decreased Unemployment: With increased demand, companies may need to hire more employees.
  • Potential Inflation: If the economy is overheated, high demand can lead to increased prices.

Raising Interest Rates

This is a contractionary measure aimed at reducing inflation by cooling off economic activity.


  • Decreased Aggregate Demand: Higher interest rates discourage spending and investment.
  • Increased Unemployment: Lower demand can lead to companies reducing their workforce.
  • Price Stability: Reduced demand helps control price levels.

Role of Interest Rates in Monetary Policy

  • Signal to the Market: Interest rate adjustments signal the central bank’s policy stance, affecting market expectations and behaviours.
  • Inflation Targeting: Central banks use interest rates to achieve their inflation targets, maintaining price stability.
  • Economic Stabilisation: Adjustments are made in response to economic cycles to mitigate extreme economic fluctuations.
IB Tutor Advice: For exams, practice applying monetary policy concepts to real-world scenarios, demonstrating understanding of both their theoretical basis and practical effects on economic growth, inflation, and employment.

Implementation Challenges and Considerations

Time Lags

Monetary policy does not impact the economy immediately; there are usually time lags between implementation and noticeable effects on economic activity.

Ineffectiveness in Liquidity Traps

When interest rates are extremely low, further reductions may not incentivise additional spending or investment.

Conflicting Policy Goals

Sometimes, policies aimed at controlling inflation might conflict with objectives of fostering economic growth and employment.

Importance of Economic Indicators

Accurate economic indicators are crucial for the central bank to assess the economy's state and determine the appropriate type and degree of intervention needed.

Policy Transmission Mechanisms

The effectiveness of monetary policy is also influenced by how well policy changes are transmitted through the banking system to impact lending, spending, and investment decisions.

Understanding these mechanisms and considerations is crucial for discerning how central banks use monetary policy tools to achieve economic stability, growth, full employment, and price stability while navigating the inherent challenges and trade-offs.


Yes, expansionary monetary policy can lead to asset bubbles. When central banks implement policies like lowering interest rates, it reduces the cost of borrowing, making credit more accessible. This increased liquidity can cause excessive investment in assets such as real estate, stocks, or commodities, leading to inflated prices that are not supported by the assets' intrinsic values. When reality catches up, and the true value is recognised, a sudden correction or "bursting" of the bubble can occur, leading to sharp price declines and potentially severe economic repercussions, as experienced during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

The velocity of money refers to the rate at which money is exchanged in an economy, influencing the effectiveness of monetary policy. If the velocity is high, money circulates quickly, potentially amplifying the impact of monetary policy on economic activity. Conversely, if the velocity is low, changes in the money supply or interest rates might have muted effects on spending and investment. During recessions, individuals and firms tend to hold onto money due to uncertainty, reducing velocity and potentially diminishing the effectiveness of expansionary monetary policy aimed at stimulating economic activity.

Central banks' communication strategies are pivotal as they impact expectations, thereby influencing the effectiveness of monetary policy. Clear, transparent, and credible communication can shape public, investor, and market expectations regarding future economic conditions and central bank actions. If the central bank is expected to act against inflation, for example, such expectations can influence wage negotiations, price setting, investment, and consumption decisions, even before any actual policy change occurs. Unclear or inconsistent communication, on the other hand, can lead to uncertainty and volatility in financial markets, potentially undermining the intended outcomes of monetary policy.

Central banks are independent to maintain credibility and avoid the influence of short-term political pressures which may favour short-term economic booms at the expense of long-term stability and inflation control. Independence ensures that monetary policy decisions are made based on economic rationale and data, without the interference of government officials who might have conflicting interests. This autonomy allows central banks to focus on long-term economic stability, managing inflation, unemployment, and fostering sustainable economic growth through well-informed and impartial implementation of monetary policy tools like interest rates and open market operations.

Contractionary monetary policy, typically involving increased interest rates, can lead to an appreciation of a country's currency. Higher interest rates offer better returns on investments denominated in that currency, attracting foreign capital and increasing demand for the currency. As the currency appreciates, exports become more expensive for foreign buyers, potentially reducing export volume, while imports become cheaper, possibly increasing import volume. This alteration in trade balance can impact domestic industries and the overall economy, potentially leading to trade deficits, affecting employment, and economic growth in the long run.

Practice Questions

Distinguish between expansionary and contractionary monetary policy and explain how open market operations are used in the implementation of both.

Expansionary monetary policy is aimed at stimulating economic growth and reducing unemployment by increasing the money supply or reducing interest rates. In contrast, contractionary monetary policy seeks to control inflation by decreasing the money supply or increasing interest rates. Open market operations are key in implementing both; by buying government securities, central banks inject money into the banking system, enacting expansionary policy. Conversely, selling government securities absorbs excess money from the banking system, enacting contractionary policy, thereby affecting interest rates and subsequently, investment and consumption.

Evaluate how changes in interest rates can influence consumer behaviour and the overall economy.

Changes in interest rates directly impact consumer behaviour and the economy. Lower interest rates, an aspect of expansionary monetary policy, reduce the cost of borrowing, encouraging consumer spending and investment, leading to increased aggregate demand and potential economic growth. However, it might also lead to inflation if demand excessively outstrips supply. Conversely, higher interest rates, part of contractionary monetary policy, make borrowing more expensive, decreasing consumer spending and investment, mitigating inflation but potentially leading to decreased economic activity and higher unemployment. The central bank meticulously adjusts interest rates to maintain economic equilibrium.

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Written by: Dave
Cambridge University - BA Hons Economics

Dave is a Cambridge Economics graduate with over 8 years of tutoring expertise in Economics & Business Studies. He crafts resources for A-Level, IB, & GCSE and excels at enhancing students' understanding & confidence in these subjects.

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