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What is the Difference Between Monetary Policy and Fiscal Policy?

In the United States, the Federal Reserve is the agency charged with setting monetary policy.
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  • Written By: Eric Tallberg
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 March 2014
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National economies are often volatile and unpredictable. Thus, at times economies must be stimulated or restrained through monetary policy and fiscal policy. Monetary policy is essentially economic policy instituted and directed by a central bank, while fiscal policy is economic policy instituted and directed by a national government. To be completely effective, these policies are ordinarily undertaken in concert with each other.

In the U.S., monetary policy is undertaken by the Federal Reserve Bank, called simply, the Fed. Guidelines for the Fed’s monetary policies are established and, occasionally, initiated by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). All monetary policy is conducted between the Fed and the various commercial banks around the country. From this banking interaction, commercial bank lending policies, as well as, for instance, lending interest rates and deposit rates, trickle down to influence consumer spending habits, and thereby, the economy as a whole.

The methods of economic stimulus or, occasionally slow-down through monetary policy are four-fold. (1) The Fed may raise or lower the reserve ratio, the amount of money banks must deposited in the Federal Reserve. (2) Federal funding interest rates may be raised or lowered, thus making short-term borrowing rates between commercial banks less expensive, or more expensive, encouraging or discouraging borrowing between banks. (3) The Fed may also raise or lower the interest rates at which commercial banks may borrow from the Federal Reserve Bank. (4) Finally, the Fed may either sell or purchase government bonds in an effort to increase or decrease government cash reserves.

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Fiscal policy, conversely, is established and initiated by the national government in the form of, for instance tax cuts. Instruments of government fiscal policy also include increased spending for government programs, and for pre-implemented, automatic fiscal measures, such as unemployment compensation or Social Security. The results of fiscal policy decisions on revenue and, therefore, on the economy, are felt more directly by the individual consumer than are results of the various monetary policies.

In virtually all instances of economic change effected through both monetary and fiscal policies, timing can be crucial in determining results. As a rule, the lag-time between the initiation of change and actual results seen in the economy is shorter through fiscal policy changes than through manipulation of monetary policy. Tax cuts, for instance, will affect consumer spending, and, therefore, the economy as a whole, much more quickly than will the amount of interest the local bank has to pay for a loan from the Fed, or from another commercial bank.

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Discuss this Article

ddljohn
Post 6

@donasmrs-- Monetary policy is about market liquidity (buying and selling of assets without change in price) and fiscal policy is about government expenditure (spending).

donasmrs
Post 5
@burcidi-- The Fed sets interest rates, not the government.

Keep in mind, however, that monetary policy and fiscal policy are both part of the national economic policy. So they don't do the same thing and they are not run by the same people, but they work together to achieve the same main goals.

It would be easier to think of monetary policy as a general method to shape the economy and fiscal policy, as a more detailed way. The role of fiscal policy is more numerous and aims at several specific issues that need to be resolved like taxes, inflation, economic growth and so forth. Monetary policy is mainly about bank interest rates, and hence the Fed sets that.

burcidi
Post 4

I understand that monetary policy is set by the Federal Reserve Bank, but doesn't the government also have a say in this? For example, doesn't the government have any influence over what the interest rates are?

I'm curious about this because several years ago, we had a bank crisis which affected the economy badly. The government must have needed to use monetary policy tools in addition to fiscal policy to try and make things better.

So what I'm trying to say is, is monetary policy completely independent and in the hands of the Fed, or does the US government has a say in it as well?

anon130123
Post 1

Thanks a lot. You pointed out the differences quite clearly.

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