In the early 1870s, the global monetary system transitioned from bimetallism—a regime in which gold and silver currencies were tied at quasi-fixed exhange ratios—to the gold standard that was characterized by the use of (only) gold as the main currency metal by the largest and most advanced economies. The transition ocurred against the backdrop of both large supply shifts in global bullion markets in the 1850s and 60s and momentous political events, such as the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71 and the subsequent foundation of the German empire. The causes for the transition have long been a matter of intense debate. This article discusses three separate but interrelated issues: (i) assessing the robustness of the pre-1870 bimetallic system to shocks—which includes a discussion of the appropriate use of Flandreau’s (1996) reference model; (ii) analyzing the transition from bimetallism to gold as a multi-stage currency game played by France and Germany; and (iii) evaluating the monetary debates at the German Handelstag conferences in the 1860s, to present a more complete narrative of the German discussion in the run-up to the transition.
The Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund were adopted at the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference (Bretton Woods, New Hampshire) on July 22, 1944. They were originally accepted by 29 countries and since then have been signed and ratified by a total of 189 Member countries. As the charter of the organization, the Articles lay out the Fund’s purposes, which include the promotion of “international monetary cooperation through a permanent institution which provides the machinery for consultation and collaboration on international monetary problems”. The Articles also establish the mandate of the Organization and its members’ rights and obligations, its governance structure and roles of its organs, and lays out various rules of operations including those related to the conduct of its operations and transactions regarding the Special Drawing Rights. The key functions of the IMF are the surveillance of the international monetary system and the monitoring of members’ economic and financial policies, the provision of Fund resources to member countries in need, and the delivery of technical assistance and financial services. Since their adoption in 1944, the Articles of Agreement have been amended seven times, with the latest amendment adopted on December 15, 2010 (effective January 26, 2016). The Articles are complemented by the By-laws of the Fund adopted by the Board of Governors, themselves being supplemented by the Rules and Regulations adopted by the Executive Board.
Mr. Thomas J Sargent, Mr. George Hall, Mr. Martin Ellison, Mr. Andrew Scott, Mr. Harold James, Ms. Era Dabla-Norris, Mark De Broeck, Mr. Nicolas End, Ms. Marina Marinkov, and Vitor Gaspar
World War I created a set of forces that affected the political arrangements and economies of all the countries involved. This period in global economic history between World War I and II offers rich material for studying international monetary and sovereign debt policies. Debt and Entanglements between the Wars focuses on the experiences of the United States, United Kingdom, four countries in the British Commonwealth (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland), France, Italy, Germany, and Japan, offering unique insights into how political and economic interests influenced alliances, defaults, and the unwinding of debts. The narratives presented show how the absence of effective international collaboration and resolution mechanisms inflicted damage on the global economy, with disastrous consequences.
Why did monetary authorities hold large gold reserves under Bretton Woods (1944–1971) when only the US had to? We argue that gold holdings were driven by institutional memory and persistent habits of central bankers. Countries continued to back currency in circulation with gold reserves, following rules of the pre-WWII gold standard. The longer an institution spent in the gold standard (and the older the policymakers), the stronger the correlation between gold reserves and currency. Since dollars and gold were not perfect substitutes, the Bretton Woods system never worked as expected. Even after radical institutional change, history still shapes the decisions of policymakers.
In 1871-73, newly unified Germany adopted the gold standard, replacing the silver-based currencies that had been prevalent in most German states until then. The reform sparked a series of steps in other countries that ultimately ended global bimetallism, i.e., a near-universal fixed exchange rate system in which (mostly) France stabilized the exchange value between gold and silver currencies. As a result, silver currencies depreciated sharply, and severe deflation ensued in the gold block. Why did Germany switch to gold and set the train of destructive events in motion? Both a review of the contemporaneous debate and statistical evidence suggest that it acted preemptively: the Australian and Californian gold discoveries of around 1850 had greatly increased the global supply of gold. By the mid-1860s, gold threatened to crowd out silver money in France, which would have severed the link between gold and silver currencies. Without reform, Germany would thus have risked exclusion from the fixed exchange rate system that tied together the major industrial economies. Reform required French accommodation, however. Victory in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71 allowed Germany to force accommodation, but only until France settled the war indemnity and regained sovereignty in late 1873. In this situation, switching to gold was superior to adopting bimetallism, as it prevented France from derailing Germany’s reform ex-post.