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Writing a History of the Bank of Finland

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Writing a History of
the Bank of Finland
Juha Tarkka
Bank of Finland
The Bank of Finland history project
The Bank of Finland history project was started in 2004
Immediate reason: Bank’s 200th anniversary in 2011
Team of two researchers (Antti Kuusterä, Juha Tarkka)
The aim: well-researched, objective monograph on the
Bank’s development…
…in the context of economic policy and financial
developments in Finland and abroad
Governance: an editorial committee, 50% external
Currently, we are writing about the World War II period
History will appear also in Swedish and English
Some observations on the history of the BoF:
Established by the Russian Emperor in 1811, after
Finland was separated from Sweden
The only bank in the country until the 1860’s
Own currency (markka) obtained in 1860, decoupled
form the rouble in 1865
Control of the Bank transferred to the Finnish parliament
in 1867 (following the Swedish model)
On the gold standard in 1878-1914
Classical central banking model adopted by the 1890’s
Finland independent in 1917, big inflation in 1917-1922
On the gold standard since 1926, sterling block 1933-
Some observations on the history, continued
War finance and inflation in 1939-1952
Joining Bretton Woods 1952, convertibility in 1958
Economic integration with the West predominant, taking
into account the delicate relationship with the Soviets
But, extensive financial regulation of interest rates, the
money market, and capital flows maintaned until the
Deregulation in the 1980’s (about 1987) and crisis in 1991
The Bank was the first line of defence in dealing with the
crisis (taking over the third largest commercial bank)
Floating of the markka in 1992, inflation target 1993-
EU 1995, ERM 1996, EMU 1999
Previous work on the Bank of Finland’s history
100th anniversary history by Emil Schybergson (1914)
• available in Finnish, Swedish, Russian, German
• ”from modest beginnings to a grand institution”
125th anniversary history by A.E. Tudeer (1939)
• covers 1911-1936
• available in Finnish, Swedish, English, German
150th anniversary history by Hugo Pipping (1961, 1969)
• only covers 1811-1914, available in Finnish, Swedish
• Vol. I titled ”From paper rouble to gold mark”
No comprehensive treatment of the post-war period
What can we add?
For the earlier period, new interpretation from today’s
perspective is essential
The received views of the Bank of Finland emphasize
”national stories”
• The bank as part of the development to independence
• Economic rationality/orthodoxy vs. politics/democracy
• The bank as bulwark of anti-keynesianism or a captive of
of export interests (the debate on the devaluation cycle)
We want to look at the bank and the currency in an
international context
For the later period, work on new archival material very
important (e.g. parliamentary council transcripts)
• Also new research available in general (political) history
Remarks on the approach
Initially , the monetary history approach was tempting
A lot of historical time series were compiled in the 1990’s
We ended up choosing a narrative, eclectic approach
A unified text (monograph) as an aim
Dangers of the economist’s approach
• Filtering: you ignore what your framework lacks
• Anachronism: you impose today’s concepts on the past
History can enrich the economist’s framework only if
• A genuinely historical approach is followed
• People, changing motives and events are in the picture
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