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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.

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  • 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. FDR knew that high wages are good… and we should too.
      by Stirling Newberry in firedoglake on 2008-11-27 03:29:13

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Monnet, Eric & Puy, Damien, 2020. "Do old habits die hard? Central banks and the Bretton Woods gold puzzle," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C).
    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. Fernando Aportela & Francisco Gallego & Pablo García, 2003. "Reserves Over the Transitions to Floating and to Inflation Targeting: Lessons From the Developed World," Working Papers Central Bank of Chile 211, Central Bank of Chile.
    8. Michael Bordo & Barry Eichengreen, 1999. "Is our Current International Economic Environment Unusually Crisis Prone?," RBA Annual Conference Volume (Discontinued), in: David Gruen & Luke Gower (ed.),Capital Flows and the International Financial System, Reserve Bank of Australia.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
    13. 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.
    14. Corbet, Shaen & Larkin, Charles, 2022. "The effects of German economic and political progress on the Sparkassen savings bank system," Research in International Business and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 61(C).

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    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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