The gold standard is a currency system (also called gold currency ) in which the currency consists either of gold coins or banknotes that represent a claim to gold and can be exchanged for gold . In the simplest case, minted gold functions directly as money ( commodity money , Kurant coin ). A gold standard also exists if a central bank guarantees a fixed exchange rate for its currency in banknotes for gold and is actually able and ready to exchange the entire amount at any time .
With the pure gold standard, the money supply of a country corresponds to the value of the monetarily used gold stock of this country. There is basically a system of fixed exchange rates between countries that are subject to a pure gold standard . There are also u. a. the proportional system, in which gold is only held for part of the money supply.
The currency regime of the gold standard had established itself around the world around 1870 and had become the recognized system in the industrialized countries from 1880. With the increased use of banknotes and deposit money , the money supply was already moving more and more away from the pure gold standard towards a proportional system at the end of the 19th century. With the beginning of the First World War , the obligation to redeem banknotes in gold was suspended by many states, so that the gold standard was practically abolished in the years from 1914 onwards. After a phase of flexible exchange rates , an agreement was reached at the Genoa conference in 1922, according to which not only gold but also foreign currency could be held as currency reserves. The system shook again with the global economic crisis . In July 1944, representatives from 44 countries adopted the Bretton Woods system , which was to combine the advantages of the gold standard as a fixed exchange rate system with the advantages of a flexible exchange rate system. This system failed in 1973.
Shapes of the gold standard
Classic gold standard
The gold standard developed from the gold currency in circulation , which means that the Kurant coins circulating in the country were exclusively gold coins. Later one went over to the gold core currency . There were notes issued which could be exchanged at the national monetary authority for gold. In Germany, the law of December 4, 1871, established the gold content of the new common currency “Mark” with the Reichsgoldmünze, and the Coin Act of July 9, 1873 applied this currency to all national currencies. The proportional system with third coverage applied, i.e. H. the central bank had to keep a supply of gold, the value of which corresponded to a third of the coins and banknotes in circulation.
Those countries were indirectly connected to the gold standard which, instead of gold reserves, invested currency reserves of currencies convertible into gold ( gold currency standard ). The advantage of foreign exchange reserves over gold was the possibility of drawing interest . In India and much of Latin America, currency reserves were accepted in the form of foreign currency or claims against countries whose currencies were convertible into gold. In Russia , Japan , the Netherlands , Austria-Hungary , Scandinavia and the British colonies , foreign currency was held in the form of British treasury bills or bank deposits . The Empire of Japan , the Empire of Russia and India (then a British colony) were the largest countries that conducted these foreign exchange transactions. These three countries temporarily held almost two thirds of the total currency reserves. The most important currency reserve was the British pound sterling . In the period just before World War I, sterling accounted for around 40% of all foreign exchange reserves. Another 40% together accounted for the French franc and the German mark.
The currency regulations of many countries in the 19th century allowed the simultaneous minting of gold and silver coins in the middle of the 19th century as currency coins covered by their metal value. A distinction must be made between two situations: (a) Only either gold or silver coins are considered to be an official means of payment with mandatory acceptance - the other coins are only trading coins with a variable exchange rate; (b) There is a fixed exchange rate between gold and silver coins and both types are official tender. Situation (b) is with bimetallism , which was mainly practiced in France. Only in Great Britain was there a de facto gold currency at the beginning of the 19th century, and in Bremen there was also a legal gold currency ( Thaler Gold ). In Great Britain, setting their value too low had caused silver coins to disappear from circulation. An almost pure silver currency, however, was z. B. predominant in India and China . A silver standard also dominated in the German-speaking countries. Gold coins were only minted here as trade coins.
After the German Empire and the Scandinavian countries had switched to the gold standard at the beginning of the second third of the 19th century, a “gold block” was opposed to a “silver block” in international trade. The link between the gold and silver block was the states with a bimetallic double currency, v. a. France and the Latin Monetary Union dominated by it . In the Latin Monetary Union, the value ratio of gold and silver was set at 1: 15.5. This value is also the transition from the silver to the gold standard in Dt. Reich founded in 1871. The demonetization of silver in the countries of the gold bloc, which accompanied the change to the gold standard , released large amounts of silver. This silver was on the market u. a. sold for gold. As a result, the value of the silver fell well below 1: 15.5. This broke the bimetalism of the coin union.
Milton Friedman (1912-2006) and other economists take the view that the price level during deflation in gold currency countries would have remained more stable during the interwar period ( Great Depression ) had the system of international bimetallism not been abandoned in favor of the classic gold standard. In the system of bimetallism it would have been easier to create an increasing amount of money for the increasing amount of goods . Deflation could have been avoided in this way.
Theory of gold automatism
David Hume (1711–1776) developed a model that became known as the gold automatism . It is based on simplifying basic assumptions. Only the circulation of gold coins is considered and the role of the banks is neglected. When an exporter was paid in gold for the goods he exported, he took it to a mint to mint coins. As soon as an importer brought goods into the country, he paid for the goods in gold. This was seen as an export of gold. A country that exports more gold for imported goods than it exports goods generates an outflow of gold and thus a balance of payments deficit . Since there were fewer gold coins in circulation in such a country, prices fell. Abroad this had the effect that the prices rose due to the increased gold circulation; the influx of gold coins caused a change in relative prices. As a result of this price increase, the imported goods in the deficit country became more expensive and their sales decreased. For other countries the goods from the deficit country became cheaper, so that consumption could be increased. This resulted in increasing exports for the deficit country and in return, imports fell. The automatism should lead to an equalization of trade balance imbalances in the medium to long term .
Task of central banks under the gold standard
An important task of the central banks under the classic gold standard was to hold gold reserves to the extent necessary to cover the redemption obligations from banknotes and coins.
If a central bank had increased the interest rate, its short-term foreign, also gold-backed financial capital flowed into it. Their gold reserves increased. The balance of payments of the gold donating country was burdened, that of the receiving country relieved. (In the medium term, however, this effect is reversed, since not only the gold has to be paid back, but also high interest payments in gold due to the disproportionately high interest rate.) Because of the short-term imbalances in the balance of payments, a chain reaction of discount rate increases could get under way. The central banks of the bloc of gold standard countries therefore agreed that all central banks should be bound by the instructions of a single central bank. This central bank with authority to issue instructions would be the British Bank of England , the most influential bank at the time. However, this agreement ignored the fact that different economic developments may occur in different countries. In such a case, the argument is made in favor of nationally different discount rates.
Fixed exchange rate system
Between the countries that were subject to the gold standard and between which gold was allowed to move freely, the gold exchange obligation of the central banks meant that the exchange rates were de facto fixed. So there was a fixed exchange rate system with all advantages and disadvantages. The exchange rate "automatically" corresponded to the arithmetical ratio of the amount of gold per denomination of the two currencies. Due to differences in the structure of the gold standard and in the creditworthiness of the states, the real exchange rates could differ from the arithmetical rates.
The origin of the worldwide introduction of a gold standard in the 19th century is based on two causes that work in sequence. The first reason can be seen in the fact that the official exchange rate of the golden guinea, which was last corrected in 1717, in relation to the silver pound sterling in the bimetallic currency system of Great Britain - measured against the market prices of gold and silver - was permanently set too high. The stipulated mandatory rate therefore valued gold coins over and silver coins under. This had the consequence that silver disappeared from the money circulation (see Gresham's law ). It was worth melting down the undervalued silver coins and selling them as metal, because the amount of silver in a coin had a market value that was higher than the face value of the coin. So the stock of silver coins in circulation decreased rapidly; In fact, Great Britain had gone over to a sole gold standard.
After Great Britain had actually switched to the gold standard, a second cause could take effect on the international level. The industrial revolution had begun in England and Britain had risen to become the world's leading financial and trading power. For all countries that traded with Great Britain and wanted to take out loans , the British gold standard was an alternative to the previously widespread system of silver currency . As a result, the main trading powers began to define their currency in gold and thus convert it into gold . A fixed exchange rate could arise from the decisions of the national governments. After 1870 the gold standard was the dominant monetary system.
The introduction of the gold standard
In the area of the German Customs Union , a uniform silver standard has applied since the Dresden Mint Treaty (1838). Great Britain and the Bank of England , with the Bank Charter Act, also formally introduced the “classic” gold standard of 1844, which was already in effect. According to the law, banknotes could only be issued if their nominal value was 100% covered by gold or government bonds. Portugal joined the gold standard in 1854 because it did most of its foreign trade with Great Britain. Some countries convened an international conference in 1865 to establish a monetary union based on bimetallism. As a result, France , Belgium , Italy , Switzerland and Greece formed the Latin Monetary Union on December 23, 1865 . It was feared that the world might split into a gold block, a silver block and a bimetal block.
The Latin Monetary Union changed its currency system to a pure gold currency in 1883, because the bimetallic system could no longer be maintained due to the decline in the value of silver. Denmark, Sweden and Norway in turn formed the Scandinavian Coin Union on the basis of the gold standard.
The reparation payments that flowed from defeated France to Germany from 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War formed the basis of the new German gold standard, the mark. France had to pay reparations amounting to five billion francs. This was done at 273 million francs in the form of gold coins. 4.2 billion francs were paid in the form of bills of exchange denominated in British pounds sterling. These bills were exchanged for gold at the Bank of England. In Germany this gold was melted and minted into own coins or deposited as a gold reserve at the Reichsbank . At the same time, Germany sold its silver holdings and bought more gold on the world market . In order to counteract a devaluation of silver currencies due to the high amount of silver on the market, France and the Latin Monetary Union limited the minting of silver coins. Internationally, however, the value of silver fell - the silver coins of the Mint Union actually changed from full-fledged Kurant coins to refined coins.
In the last few years of the 19th century, the United States , Russia, and Japan introduced the classic gold standard. In 1898 the Indian rupee was pegged to the pound sterling, followed by Ceylon and Siam . In Latin America there was a lobby for silver miners , but despite their activities, Mexico (then under Porfirio Díaz ), Peru and Uruguay also introduced the gold standard.
First World War
With the beginning of the First World War , the obligation to redeem notes in gold in the warring states was lifted. There were several reasons for this. In order to be able to finance the war costs without tax increases and through the exclusive use of war bonds, the German government, for example, spent a lot of paper money that was not covered by gold. It would have undermined the confidence of the German population in the stability of the mark if it had become known that many banknotes had been exchanged for gold in the first days of the war. The inflation "backed up" during the war by forced interventions broke out after the end of the war (see German inflation 1914 to 1923 ). Even non-warring states like Denmark quickly suspended the gold redemption obligation.
Restoration of the gold standard
After the First World War, the gold standard was restored in most countries to the extent that the central banks' obligation to pay was reintroduced. When issuing new means of payment, the amount of new means of payment issued was tied to the rules of the gold standard. The reserves of the central banks were covered by foreign loans and linked to the condition that the central banks had to become independent institutions. In the countries with moderate inflation, the stabilization of their own currency succeeded without currency reform . These included Belgium, France and Italy. At the same time, however, it was not possible to return to the pre-war parity in gold. In fact, this also meant a currency cut here, as the states did not keep their prewar promises to redeem them in gold.
Countries in which inflation was counteracted in good time were able to return to the pre-war gold price. Sweden, which had not actively participated in the war, began with this step in 1924. In 1925, then British Treasury Secretary Winston Churchill decided to return to the gold standard that had been suspended in 1914. The introduction of the gold standard at pre-war parity was tantamount to a strong appreciation of the pound sterling, since England had also financed part of the war costs through money creation. John Maynard Keynes pointed out that with a nominally identical exchange rate from pre-war times BC a. to the also gold-backed US dollar - which increased the price of British goods by around 10% compared to foreign goods. Churchill's decision to reintroduce the gold standard to pre-war parity was therefore extremely controversial in England. Economic historians have calculated that the pound had entered the gold standard overvalued by 10%, which led to an increase in the number of unemployed by 721,000. In retrospect, Churchill described this decision as the biggest mistake of his life.
Switzerland reintroduced the gold standard two months after Great Britain in June 1925. Australia, the Netherlands and South Africa also returned to the gold standard.
The move away from the gold standard
In contrast to the period before the First World War, the system of the gold standard was no longer stable in the period between the two world wars. The United States had large current account surpluses in world trade during World War I and the golden 1920s . Under the gold standard, the current account deficits in many countries, especially the German Reich, led to a constant outflow of gold. The current account deficits were offset by generous lending by the United States. For the German Reich there was also the destabilizing effect of the reparation payments after the First World War . At the turn of the year 1928/1929, the weakness of many countries' payments became apparent. The US Federal Reserve switched to a high interest rate policy to dampen the overheated economy, which caused an inflow of gold from countries with lower interest rates. At the same time, France bought massive amounts of gold in order to increase the money supply of the franc according to the needs of the French economy. The resulting gold outflow to the United States and France threatened the minimum reserves necessary to maintain gold convertibility in many countries. These states were forced to outperform the US high interest rate policy , which drastically reduced bank lending. At the same time, public spending had to be drastically cut ( austerity policy ). The worldwide contraction of the money supply caused in this way was the impulse that triggered the world economic crisis beginning in 1929.
Another cause was the severe banking crisis in the early 1930s , which led to the credit crunch and massive corporate bankruptcies. In order to combat the banking crisis, especially the bank runs , the banks should have been provided with liquidity. The gold standard was an insurmountable obstacle for such a policy. The reason for this obstacle was that the actual amount of money available in countries with gold core currencies was much higher than the ability of central banks to issue gold-backed cash.
Unilateral economic policy measures to combat the economic crisis also proved impossible under the gold standard. The initiatives to expand the money supply and / or to countercyclical fiscal policy ( reflation ) in Great Britain (1930), the United States (1932), Belgium (1934) and France (1934–35) failed because the measures caused a current account deficit and thereby endangering the gold standard.
Economic historians agree that the gold standard was a transmission mechanism for the spread of the Great Depression and contributed significantly to the development and length of the Great Depression. Over time, the monetary policy flaw became apparent. Little by little, all states suspended the gold standard and adopted a reflation policy . The almost unanimous view is that there is a clear temporal and substantive connection between the global move away from the gold standard and the beginning of the economic recovery.
Reichsmark and Austrian Schilling (1931)
The gold standard was not officially abandoned in the German Reich and Austria. But already in the summer of 1931 Austria and Germany suffered a banking crisis (including the collapse of Creditanstalt in May 1931), in which the gold reserves drained. The governments were forced to suspend the convertibility of currencies and switch to foreign exchange control .
Sterling Block (1931)
The overvaluation of the pound sterling had caused large current account deficits for years , which resulted in a decline in the Bank of England's gold holdings . It was becoming increasingly difficult for the Bank of England to maintain the defined gold parity. More and more market participants - money owners and speculators - expected a falling sterling (GBP); they exchanged money for other currencies and thereby reduced the foreign exchange holdings of the Bank of England (BoE). The BoE countered this with a sharp increase in the discount rate and accepted that the unemployment rate rose to 20%. The suspension of the gold convertibility of the GBP on September 19, 1931 marked the beginning of the collapse of the international gold standard. With the departure from the gold standard there was a deliberate devaluation ( competitive devaluation ) of the GBP by 25%, which significantly improved the competitive position of Great Britain in foreign trade at the expense of the gold standard countries ( beggar-thy-neighbor policy ).
Many other countries also broke away from the gold standard. Since many of these countries traded with Great Britain and obtained loans from there, it made sense for these countries to peg their own currency to the British pound.
In 1932 there were two blocs in the international monetary system: states with the gold standard (led by the USA) and the so-called 'sterling bloc' (Great Britain and all states that were tied to the pound). There were also numerous countries with non-convertible currencies. In each of these states there was an institution that administered the shortage of convertible foreign exchange (" foreign exchange management "). For example, many countries in Central and Eastern Europe did not have convertible currencies .
In 1933, the United States broke away from the gold standard to expand the money supply and end deflation . This helped to curb the local banking crisis, and helped the US economy back to a growth .
Franklin Delano Roosevelt ( US President from 1933 until his death in 1945) decided to suspend the gold convertibility of the US dollar (as part of his fight against the Great Depression ). A law was passed that allowed silver to be used for minting coins. The private ownership of gold was from 1 May 1933, the US banned unless it the value of 100 US dollars exceeded ( Executive Order 6102 of 5 April 1933). All private gold (coins, bars and certificates) had to be handed in to state acceptance points within 14 days at the fixed gold price. The government pushed the dollar down by buying gold at higher prices. The Gold Reserve Act of 1934 set the price of gold (well above the market price) at $ 35 an ounce. With the ounce of gold now costing more dollars, the increase in the price of gold caused the dollar to depreciate to 59% of its last official value. This devaluation meant that foreigners could buy 15% more American goods and thus export was promoted ( competitive devaluation ).
The US departure from the gold standard set a chain reaction in motion: Canada ( Canadian dollar ), Cuba ( Cuban peso ), most of the Central American states, Argentina ( Argentine peso ) and the Philippines ( Philippine peso ) also broke away from the gold standard. These measures worsened the competitive position of the last remaining members of the gold bloc and a devaluation spiral ensued .
Bretton Woods (1944-1973)
After the Second World War , the Bretton Woods system was created as an international currency system with an exchange rate range that was determined by the partially gold-backed US dollar as the anchor currency . The architects of the Bretton Woods system tried to combine the advantages of the gold standard as a fixed exchange rate system (exchange rate stability and prevention of competitive devaluations ) with the advantages of a flexible exchange rate system ( above all the ability to react unilaterally to macroeconomic shocks with an appropriate monetary policy) .
The Bretton Woods system suffered from a design flaw known as the Triffin dilemma from the start . Growing world trade led to an increasing need for dollar currency reserves. These currency reserves could only be generated through constant current account surpluses with the USA. As a reserve currency country, the USA was not subject to other countries' current account adjustments because the debt was financed in its own currency from abroad as long as foreign countries had an interest in building currency reserves. However, persistent US current account deficits have at some point undermined confidence in the dollar. This system ended in 1973. On August 15, 1971, US President Richard Nixon lifted the peg of the dollar to gold ( Nixon shock ). In 1973 the exchange rates were released.
In 1976, the International Monetary Fund recommended that its members remove the gold peg of currencies. Many countries still maintain gold reserves , but a certain gold value of the currency is no longer guaranteed.
Historians and economists alike largely agree that the gold standard did not help stabilize prices or the economy.
The widespread idea that the gold standard leads to a particular “stability” must be viewed against the intellectual horizon of the time. Unemployment was not perceived as an economic problem until the beginning of the 20th century. In Victorian times, it was international custom to refer to the unemployed as idlers or vagabonds. This choice of words reveals that unemployment was perceived as a personality weakness and that no macroeconomic influences behind the rise and fall in the number of unemployed were recognized. A scientific examination of the topic of unemployment only slowly began in the 1880s.
At the beginning of the 20th century the political influence of the workers grew, trade unions became more powerful and in many countries electoral restrictions ( three-class suffrage , census suffrage ) were slowly dismantled. In temporal coincidence, it was also recognized that high central bank rates discourage investments and thus weaken economic growth. Nevertheless, the gold automatism often forced politicians to act against this knowledge.
Around 1917, restrictions on the right to vote to the detriment of the middle and lower classes were largely lifted in most countries. As a result, workers' fear of unemployment became a significant political factor. In the years that followed, economic pioneers discovered the relationship between the money supply , credit , economic growth and unemployment . However, these findings did not gain acceptance in the economic mainstream until after the Great Depression ( Keynesian monetary theory , monetarism ). All of this weakened the previous consensus in favor of the gold standard. Under the gold standard, the economy was guided by the pro - cyclical gold automatism , an autonomous monetary policy was in fact not possible. An expansive monetary policy to stabilize the money supply and combat a recession was only possible if all countries of the gold standard pursued an expansive monetary policy to the same extent. This fatal rigidity of the gold standard could be dampened by international cooperation before the First World War, after the First World War such cooperation no longer came about. In the 1920s, it became clear that the gold standard was actually not an anchor of stability, but a major threat to financial stability and economic prosperity. Under the gold standard, at the onset of the global economic crisis, governments had to watch powerlessly as the money supply contracted, debt crises arose and the banking system collapsed to the great detriment of the real economy. All states that wanted to use the instruments of an autonomous monetary policy (e.g. expansive monetary policy, competitive devaluation ) had to give up the gold standard. The almost unanimous view is that there is a clear temporal and substantive connection between the global move away from the gold standard and the beginning of the economic recovery.
The gold automatism is now referred to as the money supply price mechanism and is still considered a fundamentally functioning balance of payments mechanism . The money supply price mechanism, however, causes increased inflation when the balance of payments surpluses are reduced and, when deficits are reduced, a depression and increased unemployment.
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- Jörg Lichter: Gold currency or dual currency. The bimetallism dispute in the German Empire from 1880 to 1895. In: Bank historical archive. Journal of banking history. Vol. 22, 1996, ISSN 0341-6208 , pp. 86-107.
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- ↑ RGBl. 1871, pp. 404-406 of December 4, 1871
- ↑ Coin Act and RGBl. 1873, pp. 233-240 of July 9, 1873
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- ↑ Michael North: A Little History of Money. From the Middle Ages to today , Beck ( Beck'sche Reihe , vol. 1895), 1st edition. 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-58451-0 , p. 370.
- ↑ Moritz Schularick: Financial Globalization in Historical Perspective , Mohr Siebeck ( The Unit of Social Sciences , Vol. 134), Tübingen 2006, ISBN 3-16-148862-8 , P. 134 ff, (At the same time: Freie Universität Berlin, dissertation, 2005 )
↑ Guido Thiemeyer: The German Liberals, the founding of an empire and the emergence of the international gold standard 1870–1873 ,
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- ^ Ralph Dietl: USA and Central America. The foreign policy of William J. Bryan, 1913-1915 , Franz Steiner Verlag Stuttgart, ISBN 3-515-06914-3 , p. 231 ( Google books )
- ↑ The Reichsbank lifted the obligation to redeem gold with retroactive effect to July 31, 1914 (Source: Manfred Borchert: Geld und Kredit: Introduction to Monetary Theory and Monetary Policy , p. 11 (Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag; revised and expanded edition 2003, ISBN 978- 3-486-27420-2 )).
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- ↑ a b Michael D. Bordo , Anna J. Schwartz (Ed.): A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, 1821-1931 , University of Chicago Press, 1984, ISBN 0-226-06590-1 .
- ↑ Samantha Heywood, Churchill , Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0-415-23016-0 , p. 36.
- ↑ Martin Kloter: Gold currency. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
- ↑ a b c d Barry Eichengreen: Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-1939 , Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-19-510113-8 , p. 4 ff.
- ↑ Wolfgang Waldner: Why the monetary policy 1929–33 caused the world economic crisis . Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2009, ISBN 978-3-8370-9391-9 , pp. 88 ff .
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- ↑ a b Randall E. Parker: Reflections on the Great Depression , Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham / Northampton 2003, ISBN 1-84376-335-4 , p. 22.
- ↑ Barry Eichengreen: Elusive Stability. Essays in the History of International Finance, 1919-1939 , Cambridge University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-521-36538-4 , pp. 145-147.
- ↑ Peter Clemens: Prosperity, Depression and the New Deal: The USA 1890-1954 , Hodder Education, 4th edition, 2008, ISBN 978-0-340-96588-7 , pp. 134 f.
- ↑ Stephanie Fitzgerald, Derek Shouba, and Katie Van Sluys: The New Deal. Rebuilding America , Compass Point Books, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7565-2096-0 , p. 56.
- ↑ Russell Napier: Anatomy of the Bear Markets ... and What We Can Learn From It , Finanzbuch-Verlag, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-89879-332-2 , p. 129 ff.
↑ Michael D. Bordo: The Bretton Woods International Monetary System. An Overview ,
in: Michael D. Bordo, Barry Eichengreen, A Retrospective on the Bretton Woods System , University of Chicago Press, 1993, ISBN 0-226-06587-1 , p. 5.
- ↑ Robert Whaples, “Where Is There Consensus Among American Economic Historians? The Results of a Survey on Forty Propositions, " Journal of Economic History , Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 139-154, here p. 143 in JSTOR
- ^ Rainer Fischbach: Volkswirtschaftslehre II , Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-486-25870-2 , p. 212.