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The Rise and Fall of a Barbarous Relic: The Role of Gold in the International Monetary SYstem

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  • Michael D. Bordo
  • Barry Eichengreen

Abstract

In this paper we analyze the changing role of gold in the international monetary system, in particular the persistence of gold holdings by monetary authorities for 20 years following the breakdown of the Brettone Woods system system and the Second Amendment to the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund which severed the formal link to gold. We stress four points. First, the gold-exchange standard was a recent arrangement that emerged only around 1900 in response to a set of historically-specific factors which also help to account for it smooth operation. How long those factors would have continued to support it will never be known, due to a great war and then a great depression. Second, a system which relied on inelastically supplied precious metal and elastcially suppled foreign exchange to meet the the world economy's demand for reserves was intrinsically fragile, prone to confidence problems, and a transmission belt for policy mistakes. Third, network externalities, statutory restrictions and habit all contributed to the persistence of the practice of holding gold reserves. But the hold of even factors as powerful as these inevitably weakens with time and the effects of their erosion are reinforced by the rise of international capital mobility, which increases the ease of holding other forms of reserves, both unborrowed and borrowed, and by the shift to greater exchange-rate flexibility, which according to our results diminishes the demand for reserves in general. Fourth and finally, network externalities, in conjunction with central bankers' collective sense of responsibility for the stability of the price of what remains an important reserve asset, suggest that the same factors which have long held in place the practice of holding gold reserves, when they come unstuck, may become unstuck all at once.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael D. Bordo & Barry Eichengreen, 1998. "The Rise and Fall of a Barbarous Relic: The Role of Gold in the International Monetary SYstem," NBER Working Papers 6436, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6436
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bordo, Michael D. & Schwartz, Anna J., 1999. "Monetary policy regimes and economic performance: The historical record," Handbook of Macroeconomics,in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 3, pages 149-234 Elsevier.
    2. Tamim Bayoumi and Barry Eichengreen., 1994. "The Stability of the Gold Standard and the Evolution of the International Monetary System," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers C94-040, University of California at Berkeley.
    3. repec:ucp:bknber:9780226065878 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Peter M. Garber, 1993. "The Collapse of the Bretton Woods Fixed Exchange Rate System," NBER Chapters,in: A Retrospective on the Bretton Woods System: Lessons for International Monetary Reform, pages 461-494 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Hugh Rockoff, 1984. "Some Evidence on the Real Price of Gold, Its Costs of Production, and Commodity Prices," NBER Chapters,in: A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, 1821-1931, pages 613-650 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Salant, Stephen W, 1983. "The Vulnerability of Price Stabilization Schemes to Speculative Attack," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(1), pages 1-38, February.
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    8. Michael D. Bordo & Barry Eichengreen, 1998. "Implications of the Great Depression for the Development of the International Monetary System," NBER Chapters,in: The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century, pages 403-454 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Barry Eichengreen & Peter Temin, 1997. "The Gold Standard and the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 6060, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    18. J. M. Landell-Mills, 1989. "The Demand for International Reserves and Their Opportunity Cost," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 36(3), pages 708-732, September.
    19. Maurice Obstfeld, 1993. "The Adjustment Mechanism," NBER Chapters,in: A Retrospective on the Bretton Woods System: Lessons for International Monetary Reform, pages 201-268 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    1. FDR knew that high wages are good… and we should too.
      by Stirling Newberry in firedoglake on 2008-11-27 03:29:13

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Michael Bordo & Barry Eichengreen & Daniela Klingebiel & Maria Soledad Martinez-Peria, 2001. "Is the crisis problem growing more severe?," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 16(32), pages 51-82, April.
    2. U. Michael Bergman & Michael D. Bordo & Lars Jonung, 1998. "Historical evidence on business cycles: the international experience," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 42(Jun), pages 65-119.
    3. António Portugal Duarte & João Sousa Andrade, 2012. "How the Gold Standard functioned in Portugal: an analysis of some macroeconomic aspects," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 44(5), pages 617-629, February.
    4. Michael P. Dooley & David Folkerts-Landau & Peter Garber, 2004. "The Revived Bretton Woods System: The Effects of Periphery Intervention and Reserve Management on Interest Rates & Exchange Rates in Center Countries," NBER Working Papers 10332, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Michael Bordo & Michael Edelstein, 1999. "Was Adherence to the Gold Standard a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" During the Interwar Period?," NBER Working Papers 7186, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Pavel Trunin & Sergey Narkevich, 2013. "Prospects for the Russian Ruble to Become Regional Reserve Currency," Working Papers 118, Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, revised 2015.
    7. Michael Bordo & Barry Eichengreen, 1999. "Is our Current International Economic Environment Unusually Crisis Prone?," RBA Annual Conference Volume,in: David Gruen & Luke Gower (ed.), Capital Flows and the International Financial System Reserve Bank of Australia.
    8. Maurice Obstfeld & Alan M. Taylor, 2003. "Globalization and Capital Markets," NBER Chapters,in: Globalization in Historical Perspective, pages 121-188 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. ORĂȘTEAN Ramona, 2015. "The Official Use Of International Currencies – Assessments And Implications," Studies in Business and Economics, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Faculty of Economic Sciences, vol. 10(3), pages 71-80, December.
    10. Bordo, Michael D. & Choudhri, Ehsan U. & Schwartz, Anna J., 2002. "Was Expansionary Monetary Policy Feasible during the Great Contraction? An Examination of the Gold Standard Constraint," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 1-28, January.
    11. Narkevich, Siarhei & Trunin, Pavel, 2013. "Prospects for the Russian Ruble as a Regional Reserve Currency," Published Papers dok2, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
    12. Sergey Narkevich & Pavel Trunin, 2012. "Reserve Currencies: Factors of Evolution and their Role in the World Economy," Research Paper Series, Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, issue 162P.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E58 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Central Banks and Their Policies
    • F33 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Monetary Arrangements and Institutions

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