The Geography of the Gold Standard
CEPR Discussion paper : n°1050
Bimetallism, Gold standard, International monetary system
In this paper we chart the geography of the gold standard. We highlight the late date of the move to gold and the variety of transition strategies. Whether a country with a currency convertible into specie operated a gold, silver or bimetallic standard at mid-century depended not so much on whether it was rich or poor as on the monetary standard of the foreign country or countries to which its transactions were linked. When it came to the distinction between specie convertibility and inconvertibility, however, domestic economic conditions came into play. In particular, there was a strong correlation between economic development, as proxied by the level of per capita incomes, and possession of a convertible currency.Most countries went onto the gold standard between the 1870s and the first decade of the twentieth century. We enumerate the factors propelling this transition and analyse variations in its timing. Factors shaping the course of this transition include the level of economic development, the magnitude of reserves relative to world specie markets, whether reserves were concentrated at the central bank, and the presence or absence of imperial ties.