Friday, February 11, 2011

Fiat money, 1683

We tend to think that fiat money is an invention of the twentieth century and thus does not predate the Italian car industry. But there have been a few experiments before this and in particular a remarkably successful one in the Netherlands starting in 1683.

Stephen Quinn and William Roberds tell the story of the Bank of Amsterdam that in 1683 started limiting the ability of depositors to withdraw coin. At a time where this would have been interpreted as "taking the money and running," this was remarkably well accepted by the depositors, and the Bank of Amsterdam never abused the situation, maintaining stable prices over the next century and greatly facilitating trade in the kingdom. All this without government supervision, basically out of private initiative. Call that almost-private central banking (the bank was sponsored by the city of Amsterdam), even conducting open market operations. Of course, this all ended went the Bank of Amsterdam went bust in 1795: the rest of the world still relying on precious metal, the lack of access to fresh silver during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War led to a strong depreciation of the guilder, and the experiment ended due to lack of fiat.

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