Monetary Policy under the Classical Gold Standard (1870s - 1914)
Drawing on monthly data for 12 European countries, this paper asks whether countries under the Classical Gold Standard followed the so-called “rules of the game” and, if so, whether the external constraint implied by these rules was more binding for the periphery than for the core. Our econometric focus is a probit estimation of the central bank discount rate behaviour. Three main findings emerge: First, all countries followed specific rules but rules were different for core countries as opposed to peripheral countries. The discount rate decisions of core countries were motivated by keeping the exchange-rate within the gold points. In stark contrast, the discount rate decisions of peripheral countries reflected changes in the domestic cover ratio. The main reason for the different rules was the limited effectiveness of the discount rate tool for peripheral countries which resulted in more frequent gold point violations. Consequently, peripheral countries relied on high reserve levels and oriented their discount rate policy towards maintaining the reserve level. Second, there was a substantial amount of discretionary monetary policy left to all countries, even though we find that core countries enjoyed marginally more liberty in setting their discount rate than peripheral countries. Third, interest rate decisions were influenced more by Berlin than by London, suggesting that the European branch of the Classical Gold Standard was less London-centered than hitherto assumed.
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