THE BANK OF GREECE IN THE INTERWAR YEARS
Bank of Greece and Ionian University
Neither history nor economic historians have been kind to Greece’s central bank in the interwar years. Born at the behest of the League of Nations to help the country secure a new international loan, the Bank of Greece was treated with a mixture of suspicion and hostility. The onset of the Great Depression pitted its statutory objective to defend the exchange rate against the incentive to reflate the domestic economy. Its policy response has generally been criticized as either ineffectual or detrimental: the Bank is accused of having pursued an unduly orthodox and restrictive policy, both during but also after the country’s exit from the gold exchange standard, some going as far as to argue that the 1932 devaluation failed to produce genuine recovery.
Relying primarily on archival material, this paper combines qualitative and quantitative sources to revisit the Bank of Greece’s birth and operation during the Great Depression. In doing so, it hopes to put Greece on the map of international comparisons of the Great Depression and debates on the role of the League of Nations, the effectiveness of money doctoring and foreign policy interventions more generally. What is more, the paper seeks to revise several aspects of the conventional narrative surrounding the Bank’s role. First, it argues that monetary policy was neither as ineffective nor as restrictive as critics suggest; this was largely thanks to a continued trickle of foreign lending, but also to the Bank’s own decision to sterilize foreign exchange outflows, thus breaking the ‘rules of the game’. Second, it revisits Greece’s attempt to cling to gold after sterling’s devaluation, a decision routinely denounced as a critical policy mistake. Last but not least, it challenges the notion that Greece constitutes an exception to the rule that wants countries who shed their ‘golden fetters’ recovering faster.
Keywords: central bank, Greece, gold standard, Great Depression, League of Nations
JEL-Classification: E58, E65, N14, N24
Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Barry Eichengreen, Chrysafis Iordanoglou, Sofia Lazaretou and two anonymous referees for their useful comments and suggestions. The views expressed in this paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the institutions with which he is affiliated.
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