The Bank For International Settlements: An Evolutionary Institution

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Michael P. Hughes
Chris Palke


International Finance; Banking; Central Banking; Financial Crisis; Finance


Established in 1930 in Basel, Switzerland, to expedite and supervise the payment of reparations by Germany to the victors of World War I, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) quickly evolved into a banking establishment for various national central banks to negotiate and work out mutually-beneficial monetary policies and financial arrangements outside of the usual political and national channels. During World War II the BIS stayed open as a neutral central bank for central banks and provided significant back-channel communications between the Allied and Axis powers that could not have occurred any other way. As an example, discussions for the reconstruction of post-WWII Germany were underway between German and Allied representatives to the BIS at least two years prior to Germany’s surrender in May 1945. The post-WWII BIS then went on to become a global central bank for the world’s national central banks. In spite of the BIS holding so much effective financial power on an international scale and, hence, affecting nearly everyone in the world, few have ever heard of the BIS. This includes many economists and financial-economists. Why? Although technically not a secret organization, the BIS has always maintained an intentionally low profile. The BIS has never advertised its existence. It operates through many other organizations it has either directly created or where it holds major influence. This paper discusses the BIS, its history, and its impact and influence on world events. Questions concerning the role the BIS should possibly play in world events and central banking are raised for discussion near the end of this paper.

This paper is focused primarily towards both upper-level undergraduate and graduate finance and economics courses, particularly in the areas of money, banking and financial institutions, financial markets, and monetary policy. However, other courses, to include those outside of the financial-economic arena, can find great use for this subject matter as well. Such outside arenas could include political science and history courses.


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