Le banche di emissione in Italia tra il 1861 e il 1893: un caso di concorrenza?
During the years between 1861 and 1893 six banks were authorized to issue notes redeemable in gold or silver — though with frequent episodes of suspension — and accepted at par in Italy. Because of the existence of several issuing banks the Italian experience was often referred to as an example of competition in money issuance; as a result, the regime of competition was blamed for the financial crisis which took place at the end of the period. This article challenges the idea that note issuance in Italy was carried out under competition. The theoretical framework used to analyse the Italian experience from the viewpoint of competition is free-banking; the theory provides a model to analyse competition between notes issued by unrestricted banks which are changed at par and redeemable in some standard good on a fractional reserve basis. Although the Italian case cannot be considered an example of freebanking, this framework can help explain whether — and under which circumstances — note issuance conditions in Italy came close to a situation of competition. According to the model, redeemability and the absence of any role by Government are essential conditions for competition between currencies to take place. Judged on these basis, Italian experience has been on the whole a far cry from competition, not only because of the frequent suspensions of redeemability but because Government interventions distorted competitive decision-making by banks and on some occasions prevented the clearing process to take place. In addition to the direct support granted to single banks — in exchange for loans or for political purposes — and to several forms of regulation on the issuing activities, competition was hampered by the willingness of Government to suspend redeemability in time of crises. On several occasions banks were given the opportunity to be exempted from the rules of competition instead of maximizing their profit subject to those constraints.
Volume (Year): 91 (2001)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
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