NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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The Limits of Bimetallism

Christopher M. Meissner

NBER Working Paper No. 20852
Issued in January 2015
NBER Program(s):The Program on the Development of the American Economy

Bimetallism disappeared as a monetary regime in the 1870s. Flandreau (1996) clearly demonstrates that French bimetallism would have been able to withstand the German de-monetization of silver. Could it have withstood if many other countries in the world moved to the gold standard following in the footsteps of Bismarck? The answer is no. By 1875 bimetallism would have been unviable, and the US return to convertibility in 1879 would have made it impossible to sustain true bimetallism. It is difficult to understand the end of the bimetallic strategy as the outcome of a repeated game between rational actors. Rather, it would appear that very few actors had a good model of how the international monetary system worked in practice as of 1873. An attempt to resuscitate bimetallism, with France and the US both bimetallic at the mint ratio of 15.5 to one, would have been tenuous. No wonder then that there were few countries enthusiastic about reviving bimetallism at the International Monetary Conference of 1878. A similar lack of cooperation risks sending the European Monetary Union-as currently constituted-the way of bimetallism.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20852

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