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The Origins of Foreign Exchange Policy: The National Bank of Belgium and the Quest for Monetary Independence in the 1850s

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  • Stefano Ugolini

    (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva))

Abstract

Can the central bank of a small open economy be mandated with the maintenance of both fixed exchange rates and monetary independence, and still succeed in the long term? Looking at a pioneering experiment put in place by the National Bank of Belgium, this article shows how foreign exchange policy allowed for persistent violations of the predictions of the trilemma in the 1850s. Success was based on four main ingredients. First, the credibility of the peg was not built through the stabilisation of exchange rates, but through the stabilisation of central bank liquidity (i.e. the ‘margin of manoeuvre’ available for countercyclical action): based on constructive ambiguity, this strategy positively influenced market expectations. Second, the stock of bullion circulating in the country acted as a buffer for central bank reserves. Third, the banking system had a structural liquidity deficit towards the central bank. Fourth, the central bank was big enough to meet the domestic demand of credit and accumulate foreign reserves at the same time. These findings shed new light on the nature of monetary policy and its implementation in the 19th century.

Suggested Citation

  • Stefano Ugolini, 2010. "The Origins of Foreign Exchange Policy: The National Bank of Belgium and the Quest for Monetary Independence in the 1850s," Working Paper 2010/22, Norges Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:bno:worpap:2010_22
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    Cited by:

    1. Stefano Ugolini, 2011. "Foreign exchange reserve management in the 19th century: The National Bank of Belgium in the 1850s," Working Paper 2011/07, Norges Bank.
    2. Chen, Yao & Ward, Felix, 2019. "When do fixed exchange rates work? Evidence from the Gold Standard," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 158-172.
    3. Jobst, Clemens & Ugolini, Stefano, 2014. "The coevolution of money markets and monetary policy, 1815-2008," Working Paper Series 1756, European Central Bank.
    4. Stefano Ugolini, 2013. "The Bank of England as the World Gold Market Maker during the Classical Gold Standard Era, 1889–1910," Palgrave Macmillan Books, in: Sandra Bott (ed.), The Global Gold Market and the International Monetary System from the late 19th Century to the Present, chapter 3, pages 64-87, Palgrave Macmillan.
    5. Klovland, Jan Tore & Øksendal, Lars Fredrik, 2013. "The decentralised central bank: regional bank rate autonomy in Norway, 1850-1892," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 6/2013, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    6. Bazot, Guillaume & Bordo, Michael D. & Monnet, Eric, 2016. "International shocks and the balance sheet of the Bank of France under the classical gold standard," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 87-107.
    7. Stefano Ugolini, 2011. "What do we really know about the long-term evolution of central banking? Evidence from the past, insights for the present," Working Paper 2011/15, Norges Bank.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Foreign exchange policy; monetary policy implementation; reserve management;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E52 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Monetary Policy
    • E58 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Central Banks and Their Policies
    • F31 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - Foreign Exchange
    • N23 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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