My main research interests are in economic history, financial and banking history, business history, business and credit cycles in the long run.
In the past I took part in several research projects funded by public bodies and private companies: University of Milan (MIUR), University of Siena (PAR and PRIN), University of Pisa-Université de Paris X-Nanterre, Banca d’Italia, Ciriec, Fiat, Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Assonime, Fondazione IRI, Consob, Swiss Re, Assicurazioni Generali, Fondazione RES.
During my stay in Florence at the EUI I will focus on the way major European central banks interpreted their role and contributed to shape this international structure of policy from the Brussels Conference (1920) up to the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in the early 1970s. This perspective aims to add to current approaches to the gold standard in the interwar decades, such as that that emphasises the effect of an inherently unbalanced mechanism – the “golden fetters” – hampering the world economy growth [Eichengreen, 1992] or the one stressing that it became one of the crucial objectives of the emerging Transnationalism [Clavin, 2013]. The research will focus on central banking as an international structure of policy to which are assigned some fundamental tasks in regulating markets (specifically, financial intermediaries and markets) and governing money (and exchange rates) in the twentieth century. These essential tasks were thought and practised not only domestically but internationally as well whenever integration processes were at stake or in progress, even if the definition of central banking could vary significantly. As such central banking had a relevance as an international actor even during the Bretton Woods system. Although international agencies, such as the IMF, assumed responsibilities in governing and settling financial imbalances from the early 1950s, the role played by major central banks in the international economy, and regional integration processes, was paramount by promoting multilateral or, as a suboptimal option, bilateral cooperation, for instance through the several “swap lines” set up between central banks to safeguard their reserves when at risk of running out of specific currencies.
In post-WWII Europe central banks were part of the wider effort made to reconstruct the international payments system by establishing, for instance, the European Payments Union, in 1950, to overcome the dollar shortage prevailing in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Even though the EPU was established by the OECD, European central banks contributed to realise progressively a fixed exchange rates mechanism within the Bretton Woods scheme by adjusting their domestic monetary policies in accordance with the broader macroeconomic objectives of recovery, growth and full employment. Despite rather undervalued in literature usually emphasising the other two sides of the “trilemma of open economies” [Mundell, 1963; Obstfeld and Taylor, 2004], the role of central banks – and the BIS – in coordinating the fixed exchange rate system actually entailed clear strategies and technical devices, as failures in fixing parities and assuring convertibility in the 1940s and 1950s demonstrated – the British and French devaluation episodes related to their balance-of-payments difficulties. This implied cases of competing loyalties and objectives, as the ROBOT plan for the pound sterling suggests or even the peculiar gold-standard shadowing of Italy in the 1950s. Accordingly, forms of cooperation amongst central banks during the so-called Golden Age are to be understood by relying upon a wider analytical horizon than usually assumed when referring to the Bretton Woods flaws [Triffin, 1957].
In this regard, cooperation amongst central banks as such and within the BIS had a relevant role in achieving convertibility in the 1950s and patching up the ailing Bretton Woods system in the following decade. Objectives relating to the set up of a functioning international payments system from the late 1940s and competing geopolitical options, such as the Suez Crisis in 1956, required sophisticated and effective forms of international cooperation amongst central banks. A point even complicated by strategic differences within Europe, in particular between Britain and major continental economies forming the core of the EEC. The political frictions about gold reserves and their actual convertibility between the United States and France in the mid-1960s rapidly eroded the Bretton Woods system. This case was not just an issue of asymmetries in the Bretton Woods scheme – the “exorbitant privilege” induced by Dennis Robertson’s amendment [Steil, 2013] –, but rather it revealed an underlying political dimension within the existing institutional framework. This aspect was emphasised by the formation of the Eurocurrency market in Europe and London from the late 1950s which put pressure on monetary policies and central bankers and, in a way, hindered projects of an European monetary union and a common capital market [Toniolo, 2005].
The research project will focus on i) individual specific contributions to the international and institutional dimensions of central banking from the early 1920s to the early 1970s; ii) vision and strategies defined by central banks in order to solve international payments difficulties and overcome currency instability in the wake of major phenomena of monetary disruption, geopolitical shifts and other imbalances; iii) the rationale and evolution of central banking cooperation as a structure of international policy vis-à-vis macroeconomic imbalances, conflicts and regional integration processes; iv) finally, how central bankers and their respective institutions interacted with other international institutions when financial innovation strained domestic as well as international regulatory schemes.