The Gold Standard Illusion: France, the Bank of France, and the International Gold Standard, 1914-1939
Economic historians have established a new orthodoxy attributing the onset and severity of the Great Depression to the flawed workings of the international gold standard. This interpretation returns French gold policy to centre stage in understanding the origins of the Depression, its rapid spread, its severity and its duration. The Gold Standard Illusion exploits new archival resources to test how well this gold standard interpretation of the Great Depression is sustained by historical records in France, the country most often criticized for hoarding gold and failure to play by the rules of the gold standard game. The study follows four lines of inquiry, providing a history of French gold policy in its national and international contexts from 1914 to 1939, an analysis of the evolution of the Bank of France during this period and the degree to which gold standard belief retarded the adoption of modern central banking practice, a re-examination of interwar central bank cooperation in the period and its role in the breakdown of the gold standard, and a study of how gold standard rhetoric fostered misperceptions of financial and monetary problems. The French case was exceptional, marked by absolute and tenacious faith in the gold standard, by the import and accumulation of a vast hoard of gold desperately needed as reserves to prevent monetary contraction abroad, and by adamant claims for the need to return to gold after most countries had left the gold standard, which had become, in the words of John Maynard Keynes, 'a curse laid upon the economic life of the world'. The Gold Standard Illusion explains French gold standard belief and policy, the impact of French policy at home and abroad, and reassesses the gold standard interpretation of the Great Depression in the light of French experience.
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