Conventional economic policy models focus only on selected elements of the central bank balance sheet, in particular monetary liabilities and sometimes foreign reserves. The canonical model of an "independent" central bank assumes that it chooses money (or an interest rate), unconstrained by a need to generate seignorage for itself or government. While a long line of literature has emphasized the dangers of fiscal dominance influencing the conduct of monetary policy the idea that an independent central bank could be constrained in achieving its policy objectives by its own balance sheet situation is a relatively novel idea considered in this paper. If one accepts this potential constraint as a valid concern, the financial strength of the central bank as a stand alone entity becomes highly relevant for ascertaining monetary policy credibility. We consider several strands of evidence that clearly indicate fiscal backing for central banks cannot be assumed and hence financial independence is relevant to operational independence. First we examine 135 central bank laws to illustrate the variety of legal approaches adopted with respect to central bank financial independence. Second, we examine the same data set with regard to central bank recapitalization provisions to show that even in cases where the treasury is nominally responsible for maintaining the central bank financially strong, it may do so in purely a cosmetic fashion. Third, we show that, in actual practice, treasuries have frequently not provided central banks with genuine financial support on a timely basis leaving them excessively reliant on seignorage to finance their operations and/or forcing them to abandon policy objectives.
The financial health of central banks and its relation to policy outcomes has recently been recognized as an important policy issue. While case study evidence clearly indicates that weak central bank finances can hamper effective policy implementation, the question of whether central bank financial strength influences policy performance remains controversial. This is due, in part, to a lack of econometric evidence. The paper presents a first step toward filling this gap, by providing a quantitative evaluation of the relationship between measures of central bank financial strength and policy performance, in particular inflation. The paper''s major finding is that there indeed is a negative relationship between central bank financial strength and inflation outcomes. This relationship appears to be robust to the choice of alternative country samples, control variables, estimation strategies, and conceptualizations of central bank financial strength.