Money and Central banking: Rist and Hawtrey on the policy of the Bank of France
Lucy Brillant  1@  , Pierre-Hernan Rojas * @
1 : Pôle d'Histoire de l'Analyse et des Représentations Economiques  (PHARE)  -  Site web
CNRS : FRE2541, Université Paris I - Panthéon-Sorbonne, Université Paris X - Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense
Maison des Sciences Économiques 106-112 bd de l'Hôpital 75013 PARIS -  France
* : Auteur correspondant

In the twenties-thirties, the difficult return to the gold standard is often considered as a source of intensification of the great depression. During those years, an interesting way of thinking national and international monetary mechanisms has emerged from the rich debates between French and British economists, notably, Ralph George Hawtrey Director of Financial Enquiries at the British Treasury, and Charles Rist, second-deputy-governor of the Bank of France from 1926 to 1928. Those two leading economists questioned the responsibility of the Bank of France in the worldwide depression considering its large conversion of sterling balances in gold in the late twenties. Hawtrey disproved this monetary policy, while Rist justified it. According to this last, the Bank of France did right because it followed “the rules of the game policies”; it converted these balances into gold as soon as the franc/sterling exchange rate reached the gold import point. Our paper analyzes the debate between Rist and Hawtrey on the role of the central bank in an open economy. The part 1 analyzes how Rist and Hawtrey's definition of the nature of money is different. While Rist draw a sharp line between “money” and “credit”, Hawtrey included deposits and bills of exchange in the definition of “money”. However, in spite of this apparent divergence, Hawtrey and Rist gave a similar analysis of the foreign exchange markets, by adopting both the Thorntonian mechanism of the gold points. The Part 2 develops Rist's vision of the working of adjustment; he saw international gold flows as the main feature of the adjustment mechanism between gold standard countries. Central banks should adjust the discount rate according to the level of gold reserves, itself depending on the state of the balance of payments. Rist considered that gold movements were symmetrical between countries; this is why he was in favor of a certain kind of monetary policies. The part 3 is about Hawtrey's deep insistence on the hierarchal structure of the international finance, centralized around the creditor position of Great Britain. He considered, unlike Rist, that the international gold standard was asymmetric, and that international transactions were mainly realized thanks to sterling bills, exchangeable into gold. Since British credit financed international trade, economic perturbations did not result from national price and costs maladjustments but from global economic cycles originated in the leading role of Great Britain as a financial center. As a matter of fact and contrary to Rist's analysis, Hawtrey refuted that gold flows and price level changes were the main features of the adjustment mechanism of the balance of payments and focused more on the way that the Bank of England could manage the international finance, and so short-term capital flows, thanks to its discount rate. The part 4 examines Rist's stance about the adoption of the gold exchange standard; he wanted it to be adopted provisory, until the definite return to the full-fledged gold standard prevailing before the First World War. Hawtrey, however, wanted to replace the pre-war gold standard by the gold exchange standard.

Personnes connectées : 1