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South-Eastern European Monetary and Economic Statistics from the Nineteenth Century to World War II

Author(s):South-East European Monetary History Network
Reviewer(s):Schuler, Kurt

Published by EH.Net (December 2015)

South-East European Monetary History Network, South-Eastern European Monetary and Economic Statistics from the Nineteenth Century to World War II. Athens / Sofia / Bucharest / Vienna: Bank of Greece / Bulgarian National Bank / National Bank of Romania / Oesterreichische Nationalbank, 2014. 405 pp. + CD-ROM. Online at http://www.bankofgreece.gr/Pages/en/Publications/Studies/SeemhnDataVolTables.aspx.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Kurt Schuler, Center for Financial Stability.

Starting in 2006, an international group of scholars formed the South-East European Monetary History Network. With the sponsorship of the central banks of the region, where many of the authors are researchers, they accumulated data and met periodically for discussion. This volume is the outcome of their labors. It compiles, in many cases for the first time, long series of data from as far back as 1830 to as recently as 1947. The countries covered are Albania, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia/Yugoslavia, and Turkey (in separate chapters for the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey). A useful introductory chapter by Matthias Morys offering an overview of the monetary history of the region — particularly the search for a monetary anchor — rounds out the volume.

The country chapters have a common structure, consisting of a discussion of major monetary events; a description of the data; a discussion of data sources; and the data themselves. Data are available both in PDF and Excel format, as well as on paper if you happen to be near one of the small number of libraries that has the hard copy. Using multiple formats is a wise choice given the potential obsolescence of current electronic formats. (How many of you who are longtime computer users can read your Lotus 1-2-3 files from the 1980s? Note that the PDF and paper versions only have the annual data, not higher-frequency data.)

As the title indicates, the emphasis is on statistics about and related to money, although the authors have compiled other macroeconomic statistics as well. The main categories of data are (1) monetary variables, (2) interest rates, (3) exchange rates, (4) government finances, (5) prices, production and labor, and (6) national accounts and population. Data follow approximately the template of the IMF’s International Financial Statistics database, whose earliest data start in 1948. The authors have, in effect, extended International Financial Statistics back into the nineteenth century for their countries.

Not only is the number of languages large for the primary and secondary source material, so is the number of language families and even the number of alphabets (Cyrillic, Greek, Roman, and the now obsolete Ottoman Turkish). Having all the material available in English is a great boon.

Best of all, the book is free, available to anybody anywhere with a computer. University presses issue similar volumes for $100 or more behind pay walls and under copyright restrictions so that the data cannot be readily disseminated legally.

Readers who have gathered data of this sort know how time-consuming it can be, especially the attempt to fill all the gaps. Certain macroeconomic statistics are unavailable in many cases and, if they are to become available, must be created by future researchers rather than simply recovered by looking through old newspapers or government surveys. The authors accordingly deserve thanks rather than carping for what they have achieved. The one big category of readily available data that I wish had been supplied, however, is full balance sheets of the monetary authorities. The data include some major balance sheet items, but they are not pulled together so that, for instance, one can see total assets or liabilities and net worth.

In a book involving so many hands and printed in a language perhaps not the native tongue of any of the authors, there are inevitably a few misprints or instances of repeated text. The book as a whole, though, is a model of what can be achieved through co-operative international effort and willingness to disseminate the results freely.

Kurt Schuler is Senior Fellow in Financial History at the Center for Financial Stability in New York, where he edits the Historical Financial Statistics data set.

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Subject(s):Development of the Economic History Discipline: Historiography; Sources and Methods
Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII