Ricardo Fernholz, Kris Mitchener, Marc Weidenmier, 18 May 2017

There has been speculation that the dollar may soon be displaced by the euro or renminbi as the primary international currency. This column examines the demise of silver-based monetary standards in the 19th century to explore price dynamics when a money ceases to function as a global unit of account. According to new data on the historical prices of agricultural commodities, silver ceased functioning as a global price anchor in the mid-1890s. Over the same period, the volatility of agricultural commodity prices also declined.

Patrick O'Brien, Nuno Palma, 03 September 2016

Today's unconventional central bank policies have historical precedent. One example is the suspension of convertibility of banknotes into gold by the Bank of England between 1797 and 1821. This column argues that, although there were important differences between then and now, it demonstrates that bank reputation and interaction between bank and state are vital to the success of unconventional policies. Also, short-term unconventional policies may persist long after a crisis has passed.

Stefano Ugolini, 30 August 2016

When Mario Draghi famously declared that the ECB was “ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro”, he also specified “within our mandate”. This column examines the institutional limitations to central bankers’ actions. It argues that institutional constraints are essential in determining the sustainability of monetary policies, and hence central banks’ ability to pursue their targets. The weakness of the Bank of England in the heyday of the gold standard is a case in point.

Stefan Gerlach, Peter Kugler, 12 August 2015

Anticipation of future economic policy changes may impact assets such as foreign exchange. This column argues that expectations of a return to gold were an important determinant of the sterling-dollar exchange rate in the early 1920s. The probability of sterling’s return to gold increased from around 15% to over 70% in the second half of 1924, a few months before Churchill announced it in April 1925.

Guillaume Bazot, Michael Bordo, Eric Monnet, 16 December 2014

The recent focus on central banks’ balance sheet policies has brought new interest to the question of how they deal with the international finance constraint. This column gives historical perspective to the issue by examining the policies of the Banque de France during the gold standard. The Banque used its domestic portfolio to stabilise interest rates rather than using exchange rate intervention. This sheds new light on the standard view that discount rates and capital controls were the primary monetary policy instruments during the gold standard.

Kris Mitchener, Kirsten Wandschneider, 18 August 2014

The IMF has recently revised its position on capital controls, acknowledging that they may help prevent financial crises. This column examines the effects of capital controls imposed during the Great Depression. Capital controls appear not to have been successfully used as tools for rescuing banking systems, stimulating domestic output, or for raising prices. Rather they appear to have been maintained as a means for restricting trade and repayment of foreign debts.

Nicholas Crafts, 21 January 2014

Nicholas Crafts talks to Viv Davies about his recent work on the threatening issue of public debt in the Eurozone. Crafts maintains that the implicit fault line in the EZ is evident; several EZ economies face a long period of fiscal consolidation and low growth and that a different sort of central bank might be preferable. They also discuss the challenges and constraints of banking, fiscal and federal union. The interview was recorded in London on 17 January 2014.

Nicholas Crafts, 13 December 2013

This column argues that the legacy of public debt resulting from the crisis in the Eurozone is a serious threat. Both the size of the problem and the options to address it make life much more difficult for policymakers than was the case in the late 1930s after the collapse of the gold standard. For some countries, a ‘subservient’ central bank might be preferable to the ECB.

Stefano Ugolini, 05 July 2013

The current wave of monetary expansion by central banks has reignited calls for a return to the gold standard. But would this monetary system work today? This column argues that it probably would not. The successful pre-1914 gold standard was based a very peculiar gold-market microstructure, which provided central bankers with non-negligible discretionary power. Such microstructural foundations would be neither replicable nor desirable today.

Anthony Hotson, 23 April 2013

Medieval monetary practices reveal an alternative approach to currency stabilisation. This column examines the role of Mint prices as a device for stabilising the medieval bullion market. This might seem to be of limited relevance to managing modern currencies, yet a longer historical view helps to highlight different approaches to currency stabilisation. This raises a question for modern policymakers: should the price of some of the asset counterparts of today’s money be anchored, as bullion prices once were under the Mint system?

Douglas Irwin, 11 September 2011

The swift policy response to the recent financial crisis helped the world economy avoid a replay of the Great Depression of 1929-32. But can we avoid a replay of 1937-38? With the world economy weakening once again, this column addresses the question with a renewed urgency and comes up with an oft-overlooked explanation – the Treasury Department's decision to sterilise all gold inflows starting in December 1936.

Andreas Freytag, Stan du Plessis, 12 November 2010

President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, caused a stir this week by hinting at a need to return to the gold standard. While supporting the drive for pro-growth policies and the desire to maintain an open international trade system, this column argues that a return to gold would struggle to achieve this and could even be a destabilising force.

Douglas Irwin, 20 September 2010

A large body of research has linked the gold standard to the severity of the Great Depression. This column argues that while economic historians have focused on the role of tightened US monetary policy, not enough attention has been given to the role of France, whose share of world gold reserves soared from 7% in 1926 to 27% in 1932. It suggests that France’s policies directly account for about half of the 30% deflation experienced in 1930 and 1931.

Richard Grossman, 21 May 2010

Richard Grossman of Wesleyan University talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about the role of gold standard in propagating the Great Depression – and what we might learn for the crisis in the world’s most important fixed exchange rate system of today, the eurozone. The interview was recorded at a conference on ‘Lessons from the Great Depression for the Making of Economic Policy’ in London in April 2010.