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Crisis Chronicles: Gold, Deflation, and the Panic of 1893
In the late 1800s, a surge in silver production made a shift toward a monetary standard based on gold and silver rather than gold alone increasingly attractive to debtors seeking relief through higher prices. The U.S. government made a tentative step in this direction with the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, an 1890 law requiring the Treasury to significantly increase its purchases of silver. Concern about the United States abandoning the gold standard, however, drove up the demand for gold, which drained the Treasury’s holdings and created strains on the financial system’s liquidity. News ...
Crisis Chronicles: Railway Mania, the Hungry Forties, and the Commercial Crisis of 1847
Money was plentiful in the United Kingdom in 1842, and with low yields on government bonds and railway shares paying handsome dividends, the desire to speculate spread?as one observer put it, ?the contagion passed to all, and from the clerk to the capitalist the fever reigned uncontrollable and uncontrolled? (Francis?s History of the Bank of England). And so began railway mania. Just as that bubble began to burst, a massive harvest failure in England and Ireland led to surging food imports, which drained gold reserves from the Bank of England. Constrained by the Bank Charter Act, the Bank ...
Crisis Chronicles: Defensive Suspension and the Panic of 1857
Sometimes the world loses its bearings and the best alternative is a timeout. Such was the case during the Panic of 1857, which started when a prestigious bank in New York City collapsed, making all banks suddenly suspect. Banks, fearing a run on their gold reserves, started calling in loans from commercial firms and brokers, leading to asset sales at fire-sale prices and bankruptcies. By mid-October, banks in Philadelphia and New York suspended convertibility, meaning they would not allow gold to be withdrawn from their vaults even while all other banking services continued. Suspension then ...
Heterogeneity and stability: bolster the strong, not the weak
This paper provides a model of systemic panic among financial institutions with heterogeneous fragilities. Concerns about potential spillovers from each other generate strategic interaction among institutions, triggering a preemption game in which one tries to exit the market before the others to avoid spillovers. Although financial contagion originates in weaker institutions, systemic risk depends critically on the financial health of stronger institutions in the contagion chain. This analysis suggests that when concerns about spillovers prevail, then 1) increasing heterogeneity of ...
Crisis Chronicles: The Man on the Twenty-Dollar Bill and the Panic of 1837
President Andrew Jackson was a 'hard money' man. He saw specie--that is, gold and silver--as real money, and considered paper money a suspicious store of value fabricated by corrupt bankers. So Jackson issued a decree that purchases of government land could only be made with gold or silver. And just as much as Jackson loved hard money, he despised the elites running the banking system, so he embarked on a crusade to abolish the Second Bank of the United States (the Bank). Both of these efforts by Jackson boosted the demand for specie and revealed the soft spots in an economy based on hard ...