The Bank of England, 1891-1944 - Vol. 2

By R. S. Sayers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20
THE CURATOR OF FINANCIAL ORGANISATION

A. THE BROADER VIEW OF CENTRAL BANKING

Conventionally the business of central banking is concerned with monetary action: the supply of reserve cash, rates of interest, the foreign exchanges, and government financial policy in so far as it has substantial implications for the functioning of the monetary mechanisms. Central banking in this narrow sense, however, assumes a degree of health and consistency of behaviour in the broad range of financial institutions, and the actions of the central bank are open to frustration if this health breaks down. The complete central bank has therefore to have some care for the health of financial institutions generally, a care that may be no more than that of a watchdog, but can in difficult times develop into a large part of its activity, and branch out beyond the narrowly financial to amount to intervention in the organisation of industry and trade. In the early years after the first war the Bank of England felt the necessity to go even further and, as has been seen in Chapter 8, its Governor busied himself particularly in the financial rehabilitation of Europe. Before long he was also finding his Bank drawn into abnormal activity in the reorganisation of certain British industries. In both the international and the domestic spheres Norman found these activities much to his personal taste but he, and more decidedly some of his colleagues, hoped that such abnormal activity might diminish with the arrival of more normal conditions. The world slump of the early 1930s, of which London's own crisis of 1931 was an incident, put an end to these hopes, and both internationally and domestically the Bank continued its involvement in one operation after another, at best of reorganisation, at worst of rescue.

Internationally these activities cannot be logically distinguished from foreign exchange policy, for the Bank was always mindful of the latter's repercussions on other countries and on the network of inter-

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