Tag Archives: Gold standard

The Value of Monetary Units, 1500–1914

K. Kıvanç Karaman, ¸Sevket Pamuk, Seçil Yıldırım-Karaman (2020), Money and monetary stability in Europe, 1300–1914, Journal of Monetary Economics (115).

At one extreme, the Dutch Republic depreciated its monetary unit by about 2.3 times, at the other, the Ottomans depreciated by about 25,000 times. These two numbers correspond to average annual depreciation rates of 0.2 and 2.5% respectively, with the other states falling in-between. … depreciations tended to be episodic. In particular, long periods of constant silver and gold value alternated with episodes of rapid depreciation in consecutive years. … There were also instances of one-off depreciations, but they were few, and at low rates. … monetary stability was not an elusive objective. Some states stabilized their monetary unit early. England did so by the mid-16th century, except for the fiat standard episode during the Napoleonic wars. Dutch Republic stabilized its monetary unit in the early 17th century, with very minor changes in the centuries that followed. France stabilized its monetary unit in 1795 following the fiat money experiment of the Revolution. In contrast to these western European states, in southern and eastern Europe, states continued to depreciate their monetary units until the end of the period.

Mathias Binswanger’s “Money Out of Nothing”

In his recent book Geld aus dem Nichts (Money out of Nothing), Mathias Binswanger discusses the role of banks in creating money, and money’s role in affecting the macro economy. The book is written for a non specialist audience and the arguments are often quite loose.

In the first part of the book, Binswanger describes how money mostly is created by commercial rather than central banks.

Part II provides a nice historical overview. Binswanger describes the origins of modern banking with goldsmiths first storing gold for their merchant clients, then lending some of the stored gold to third parties, and finally issuing more “receipts” than what corresponds to the gold deposits they actually accepted. From there, he argues, it was a small step to state licensed national banks like the Bank of England. On p. 120 Binswanger describes how minimum reserve requirements got out of fashion, not least because they suffered from circumvention when they were binding.

Part III lacks precision and is misguided (see also pp. 30 or 66). It covers the link between money creation and growth but confuses national accounting concepts and their relation to money and credit. Clearly, growth can occur without credit (think of an economy with just one agent to see this most directly) but Binswanger seems to dispute this point, in line with earlier writings by his father. A “model” on p. 144 does not help to clarify his views because it is orthogonal to the argument. Binswanger criticizes mainstream economics for refusing to accept the presence of long-run links between money and growth but this critique remains vain. Part IV deals with money creation and its effect on financial markets.

Part V, on reform, is sensible. Binswanger rejects proposals to move (back) to the gold standard or a 100%-money regime (or, essentially equivalent, “positive money”). His arguments against the Swiss “Vollgeld” initiative resonate with points I made here and elsewhere, including the point that it would be difficult to enforce a “Vollgeld” regime (see also p. 122). Binswanger criticizes the “Vollgeld” initiative’s vagueness concerning actual implementation of monetary policy. He ends with more limited, rather standard proposals (relating to regulation, monetary policy objectives and capital requirements) to address problems in financial markets.