Financial Stability Without Central Banks

90 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2021

See all articles by Institute of Economic Affairs Submitter

Institute of Economic Affairs Submitter


Mathieu Bédard

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Kevin Dowd

Durham Business School

George Selgin

The Cato Institute; University of Georgia

Date Written: February 16, 2018


In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Scotland had a stable financial system. Its stability arose from the pressure that private banks, which had the right to issue bank notes, placed on each other to behave prudently. Unlike in England, the Scottish banking system had no central bank. If one bank within the system overstretched, it would quickly find its reserves leaking away to other banks. The fears of those who believe that a central bank has to stand behind a banking system to prevent systemic failure are not born out in practice. A banking system without a central bank provides incentives for banks to act with restraint. Their lending policies are tied to each other. If one over-reaches, it will be pulled back as others present notes to, and demand reserves from, the bank that is lending recklessly. This ensures not only the stability of the system, but also stability of overall spending in the economy. A banking system that is backed by a central bank has a tendency towards instability. This is because the creation of money by the central bank can inflate money and credit creation in the banking system as a whole. The mechanism of banks restraining the behaviour of each other is blunted. Financial instability and price instability are likely results. The banking system in Scotland was more stable than that in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Furthermore, the banking system in Canada was stable relative to that in the US. Canada’s banking system evolved in a similar way to that in Scotland. The US system did not have a central bank (the Federal Reserve) until the early twentieth century. However, regulation and the control and distortion of the banking system by government, especially during and after the Civil War, was disastrous and led to acute instability. Since the creation of the Federal Reserve, financial stability has worsened. The pre-Federal Reserve model was itself problematic. However, the history of other countries’ banking systems suggests that, whatever the problem was, the solution was not a central bank. Financial stability is more likely in a system without central banks and that is not distorted by misguided regulation.

Keywords: UK, Britain, England, Scotland, US, USA, Canada, central bank, central bank policy, Federal Reserve, Bank of England, central banking, monetary policy, financial regulation

JEL Classification: E52, E60, E62, E58, E59, E51, N14, N12, N34, N30, N32

Suggested Citation

Submitter, Institute of Economic Affairs and Bédard, Mathieu and Dowd, Kevin and Selgin, George, Financial Stability Without Central Banks (February 16, 2018). Institute of Economic Affairs, Available at SSRN: or

Institute of Economic Affairs Submitter

Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) ( email )

2 Lord North Street, Westminster
London, SW1P 3LB
United Kingdom


Mathieu Bédard (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Kevin Dowd

Durham Business School ( email )

Mill Hill Lane
Durham, Durham DH1 3LB
United Kingdom

George Selgin

The Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States


University of Georgia ( email )

Athens, GA 30602-6254
United States
706-542-2734 (Phone)
706-542-3376 (Fax)

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