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Colvin, Chris

Colvin, Chris

Individual Fellow

Going Dutch: Understanding the Golden Years

Dutch interwar financial history is dominated by the gold standard. This fixed exchange rate system significantly constrained policymakers’ ability to deal with the Great Depression. The dogma of the gold standard meant that the Netherlands maintained a direct connection between the guilder and gold, even when every other country had already abandoned the link. Understanding the consequences of this policy choice could help policymakers to better cope with similar macroeconomic policy decisions today.

Project Description

Theory suggests that there is a macroeconomic policy “trilemma”, whereby central bankers cannot simultaneously maintain a fixed exchange rate, wield independent interest-setting ability and permit free international capital mobility. This is a problem because all three are needed to promote trade and industry. Today in Europe, monetary union allows us to maintain all three objectives by permanently abandoning our national currencies. But the euro is not an unqualified success story. In the past, other monetary solutions were found. The gold standard fixed exchange rate system is perhaps the most famous example. This system was reinvented after the First World War, but failed spectacularly in the 1930s. Interestingly, the Netherlands was among the last to leave it. By examining the policy history of the Netherlands in the interwar period, I hope to learn the lessons from financial history. The aim of my project is to understand how policymakers understood the process of macroeconomic policymaking at the time, and to establish whether the trilemma trade-off existed in practice.

Selected Publications

Colvin, Christopher L. 2017. “Banking on a religious divide: accounting for the success of the Netherlands’ Raiffeisen cooperatives in the crisis of the 1920s.” Journal of Economic History 77(3), pp. 866–918.

Colvin, Christopher L. 2017. “The past, present and future of banking history.” In: John F. Wilson, Steven Toms, Abe de Jong and Emily Buchnea (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Business History, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 89–106.

Colvin, Christopher L., Abe de Jong and Philip T. Fliers. 2015. “Predicting the past: understanding the causes of bank distress in the Netherlands in the 1920s.” Explorations in Economic History 55, pp. 97–121.


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