Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

The Banking Utopia from Economists

Coste Clément, Sciences Po Lyon

It is not common to consider bankers (or banks) with philanthropy or moral values at large. The economic literature has provided more examples of corruptions, self-interest businessmen or banks taking advantage from conflict of interests than the ones of institutions which paid interest for human being. However, exceptions can be found throughout the literature. In fact, we have all in mind Pereire’s brothers' contributions, ones of the famous Saint-Simonian thinkers, with their atypical specialized bank for the development of property ("Crédit Foncier" and "Crédit Mobilier"). The unfortunate Proudhon's project on the "Banque du peuple" in 1848 is another one. This atypical bank was seen as centre of associations that were to create mutual relief funds, and operate as production and consumption cooperatives. More recently, Hayek 1976 book on 'Denationalization of Money" provided another insight on the banking functioning. Even though, Hayek saw the banks as a traditional source of financing for the economic cycle, he developed, by contrast, the idea(l) of an institution that could also play as a centre of (perfect) information -with the help of the press- by monitoring index, data and many other useful information for the competition among private currencies. This historical roundabout is enlightening even though it provides an history of failures. By picking many examples developed by economists, the paper proposes an overview from the 19th century till the recent period of various banking 'utopian'. By so doing, we aim at providing a fruitful analysis on the context behind these utopian and the reasons of their failure. By telling banking utopian we hope to better understand the contemporary issues of banks and money at large. The emergence of a private digitalized currency system forces us to recall the crucial role played by banks for the real economy.


Keywords: bank ; utopia ; saint-simonism ; banque du peuple

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