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Silver, paper money and trust in historical perspective.

12 december 2014 t/m 13 december 2014

Coins, currency and crisis from c. 2000 BC – c. AD 2000: Silver, paper money and trust in historical perspective.

International workshop Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 12-13 December 2014

Main Building, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam.

Rooms 9A-06 (12 December) and 9A-10 (13 December).
Participation is free, but prior notice is required: r.j.vander.spek@vu.nl
Program below.


Prof.  dr. Bert van der Spek (VU University Amsterdam)   r.j.vander.spek@vu.nl
Dr. Bas van Leeuwen (Utrecht University/ IISH)    bas.vanleeuwen1@gmail.com

General outline

Recently, the economic crisis that hit Greece was caused by excessive government borrowing. Two elements are thought to have contributed to the Euro crisis that followed: first, an increasing globalized capital market which allowed excessive borrowing against relatively low interest rates and, secondly, a single Euro-currency (the Euro), which, because this is a fiat money, contributed to a sudden decline in trust. The resulting unrest in the financial markets led in some countries to the cry for the reintroduction of local (or silver based) coins. Basically, the argument behind such pleas is that local governments should be able to increase or decrease the quantity of coins in circulation (and not rely on the policy of the European Central Bank), mainly because local governments supposedly have earned more trust. Also, if silver-based coins were introduced, the issue of trust would no longer be pressing, it is argued, since the money has a nominal value which is equal to its intrinsic value.

However, the question how monetary systems could prevent crises is still very much unresolved. Even though monetarists claim that it is largely the demand and supply of money as controlled by governments/central banks that create inflation which may affect the real economy via increased/decreased aggregate demand, many also agree that this offers an incomplete view. Indeed, in 1992 Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, a famous monetarist, wrote about the present monetary system:

Up to the present, the fiat monetary system has been characterized by wide fluctuations in price levels, interest rates, and exchange rates, as the major nations have been trying to learn to navigate in uncharted waters, trying to find some anchor for the price level other than conversion into a commodity. Whether and, if so, when the fiat system will lead to acceptable results remains an open question. Hence, a discussion of perhaps the most common earlier world system, bimetallism, may be of more than historical interest (Friedman, 1992, 87).

Indeed the question of how to create a stable monetary system, which, again, figures  prominently on the political agenda, cannot be resolved without taking into account past experiences. This workshop addresses this issue by taking a long-run perspective, from ancient Assyria to the modern world. It asks the question to what degree earlier monetary systems prevented economic crises, from ancient Mesopotamian times until the present. To this end, an international group of scholars will discuss if past monetary systems caused fewer, or different economic crises than present-day systems, and if so, why.


Day 1: Friday 12 December 2014  (Room 9A-06)

A. Silver and Money. General observations
* 9.00 – 9.10. Introduction (Van der Spek; Van Leeuwen)
* 9.10 – 10.00. Commodity money: an overview (Dennis Flynn) / Copper, silver and ‘deep monetization’   (J. Lucassen)

B. Ancient economies
* 10.00 -10.30. Metals, trade, and economy in Ancient Assyria (19th century BC) (J.G. Dercksen)
* 10.30 – 11.10. Silver and trust in Mesopotamia (M. Jursa and R.J. van der Spek)
Coffee Break 11.10-10.30.
* 10.30 – 12.00. Why were coins introduced much earlier in Greece than in Babylon? A comparison between ancient Greece and present day Europe (J.A. Mooring)
* 12.00 – 12.30. Circulation of Money in the Seleucid empire. (P. Jossif)
* 12.30 – 13.00. Economic crises in Babylon and Brussels (P. Foldvari and B. van Leeuwen)
LUNCH 13.00 – 14.00
* 14.00 – 14.30. Money, society and economy in the Roman Empire (K. Butcher)

C. China
* 14.30 – 15.00. Paper money during the Yuan Period (1260-1368): An Analysis of its Rise and Decline (H.U. Vogel)
* 15.00 – 15.30. China: flows of silver and economic crises from the Ming until the Qing dynasty (1368-1912) (Xuyi and Van Leeuwen)
Tea Break15.30 – 15.50.
* 15.50 – 16.30. Monetary developments and economic crises in the 19th and 20th century (Debin Ma / Xun Yan)
* 16.30 – 17.00 From Latin America to China: Silver in global perspective.  (M.-A. Irigoin).
Drinks + Dinner

Day 2: Saturday 13 December 2014 (Room 9A-10)

D. Developments in Europe from the Middle Ages to the 18th century
* 9.00 – 9.30.  Incentives and interests. Monetary policy, public debt and default in Holland, c. 1466-1489. (J. Zuijderduijn)
* 9.30 – 10.00. Smoothing the flow: currency circulation and payment techniques in the Low Countries, 1500-1800 (O. Gelderblom and J. Jonker)
Coffee Break 10.00 – 10.20.
* 10.20 – 10.50. Money, markets and economic growth in England 1400-1900 (N. Mayhew)

E. The end of the metallic systems and monetary crises in the 19th and 20th centuries
* 10.50 – 11.20. Monetary sovereignty under different monetary arrangements in the 1920s and 30s? The case of Spain. (J.E. Castaneda).
* 11.20 – 12.10. Monetary Unions from Antiquity to the Present (Federal currencies in the Achaean League, the Latin Monetary Union and the EMU) (J.L. van Zanden)
LUNCH: 12.10 – 13.00
* 13.00 – 14.30. Monetary crises in the 20th and 21st century in historical perspective (D.J. Bezemer)
* 14.30 – 15.00. Economic crises and monetary policy: institutions (H. Schenk)
Tea Break 15.00 – 15.20.
F. 15.00 – 16.00. Concluding discussion. From Assyria 2000 BC to America AD 2014.  Lessons for the present crisis? (Van der Spek, Van Leeuwen).