Ideas and power : shaping monetary policy in South Africa 1919-1936

by Bradley John Bordiss

Institution: Rhodes University
Department: Faculty of Commerce, Economics and Economic History
Degree: M.Com.
Year: 2014
Keywords: Monetary policy  – South Africa  – 1919-1936; Economic development  – South Africa  – 1919-1936; Economics  – South Africa  – History; Economics  – Philosophy; South Africa  – Economic policy  – 1919-1936; South Africa  – Foreign economic relations  – 1919-1936; Great Britain  – Foreign economic relations  – 1919-1936; Great Britain  – Economic policy  – 1918-1945
Record ID: 1453422
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10962/d1011605


In the concluding paragraphs of Keynes’ General Theory, Keynes suggests that vested interests (power) may dominate in the short term, but that “sooner or later, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil” (Keynes; 1936:384). This dissertation seeks to establish whether this is so, and to what extent, in the period 1919 to 1936, insofar as the shaping of monetary policy was concerned. The context that South Africa found itself in at the time was one in which Britain, the colonising power, was in economic decline. Britain’s real economy had lost its lead in the world in the late 1800s, and by our period, 1919 – 1936, she was now struggling to maintain her dominance of the world’s financial economy. South African gold flows to London, and a South African monetary policy supportive of British monetary policy, became more important than ever to Britain. On the back of its ascendant real economy, the United States of America was fast developing its financial sector as a rival to that centered on London. In the broader monetary policy world, the orthodox monetary regime of the Gold Standard, which had worked so well in the period from 1875 to 1914, was firstly difficult to reestablish, and once established, difficult to maintain. Opinion on what should be done was divided between the majority who favoured a return to the orthodoxy, and a much smaller group, including John Maynard Keynes, who argued that the Gold Standard should no longer be the preferred monetary system. In South Africa, our period starts 17 years after the Second Boer War. Afrikaner nationalists intent on establishing independence from Britain, competed with those, including Jan Christiaan Smuts, who believed that tying our policy up with that of the British Empire was the best for South Africa. It is in this context that a naturalised Briton, which the research shows was a loyal servant of the London power elite, was appointed by the Empire-friendly Smuts government to advise the South African government on monetary policy, the setting up of the South African Reserve Bank, the appointment of its first Governor and other matters in the period up until the fall of this government in 1924. It is also in this context that an American ‘Currency Doctor’ and Professor of Economics at Princeton University, which the research shows was intimately connected with the American government and Benjamin Strong at the Federal Reserve, was appointed by the Pact government later in 1924, and who was anxious to throw off the yoke of British control. The theoretical paradigm of this study is that developed by John Maynard Keynes and after him by the post-Keynesian economists, particularly Basil Moore and Hyman P. Minsky. Instead of considering the theory chronologically, book by book, the theory section deals with the subject matter in the themes which came up in the monetary policy debates of the time, looking at all the theoretical literature that applied to these various themes. Aside from the correction of errors of emphasis and errors of…