‘The capital market is dead’: the difficult birth of index‐linked gilts in the UK 

Authors:
MICHAEL J. OLIVER, JANETTE RUTTERFORD
Published Online:
14 May 2019
DOI:
10.1111/ehr.12875

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Abstract This article describes how and why the Thatcher government introduced index‐linked gilts in 1981. It outlines the earlier deliberations by the monetary authorities during the 1950s and 1960s on how an indexed government security might help or hinder the fight against inflation. Although these discussions came to nothing, rising inflation and increasing difficulties with managing the gilt‐edged market during the 1970s revived interest in the indexation of government securities. Both the Page Commission in 1974 and the Wilson Report in 1980 recommended the introduction of inflation‐indexed securities, but the election of the Conservative government in 1979 gave real momentum to their possible issuance. Although Margaret Thatcher was initially opposed to indexation, Nigel Lawson galvanized the Treasury and the Bank of England to work on a scheme to issue index‐linked gilts as a means of improving economic performance. The article traces the contentious series of discussions surrounding the possible effects of index‐linked gilts on government debt interest costs, on monetary policy and monetary targets, and on the possible ‘crowding out’ of corporate bonds and equities which could not offer a guaranteed real return. Despite teething problems, the introduction of inflation‐linked bonds in the UK was deemed a success.

© Economic History Society

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