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Hostile Money Reviews

Professor Forrest Capie. Cass Business School, City University of London

In ‘Hostile Money’ Paul Wilson brings a different perspective to the study of money and draws on historical experience to illustrate the two-way relationship money has with society. Money can be used consciously and possibly aggressively to shape matters or it can itself be the consequence of, for example, social changes. Wilson discusses in a large coverage over time and space: the effect of social movements on monetary systems; the impact of war on monetary systems; and the interplay between private and state activities and aims.  But there are many other interesting aspects of the story such as counterfeiting, both private and state, or of smuggling and so on.  This is a book full of interest for all kinds of audiences.

John Plender Author of Capitalism: Money, Morals and Markets.

Paul Wilson's Hostile Money is an extraordinarily wide ranging reviewof the relations between war, revolution and money - an essential andcompelling guide to a fascinating area where economics  andgeopolitics collide.

Paola Subacchi 

Professor of International Economics, University of London's Queen Mary Global Policy Institute

Paul Wilson, Hostile Money: Currencies in Conflict, The History Press, 2019.

I am intrigued by the numerous links between money, power, and conflict, but I am also frustrated by how the topic is typically treated – mainly by international-relations specialists, because economists generally steer clear of it. This well-researched book, which includes both historical examples and contemporary evidence, avoids those pitfalls, while offering a fresh perspective on some important dynamics.

Project Syndicate Website Book Recommendations 2019

Robert Pringle

Impressively erudite, he never lets his command of detail hold up the story, so that the reader is swept up in the stormy history of money’s role in some of the greatest social, political and military conflicts from ancient Rome to the cyber warfare of the 21st century.

Wilson successfully explores the inter-connections between major social movements/events/conflicts on the one hand and money/monetary systems one the other. 

The author wears his scholarship lightly. He has no ideological axes to grind. He avoids getting bogged down in sterile debates  for example about monetarist versus Keynesian interpretations of the Great Depression or other much-debated periods of 20th century economic history. He rightly views money as a key social institution, responding to political, military and economic pressures but having its own dynamic. Money stands ready to make its contribution to progress, given the chance to do so. It is part of the effort to better the human condition. This combination of qualities make the book a pleasure to read.

Shades of Sovereignty

Money and the Making of the State

This comprehensive book traces the role of money in the creation of the state. Starting in the early modern era, Paul Wilson explores the monetary systems of empires and new states in the age of nation-building in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Spanning a wide geographical and historical range from the creation of the United States of America to the establishment of the European Union and the breakup of the Soviet Union and beyond, the author examines changing attitudes toward monetary sovereignty as dozens of new states created new currencies since the end of the Second World War.


Wilson analyzes the decision–making of newly independent states in their choice of an appropriate currency, considering the complex factors involved—ranging from the purely economic to questions of security, international recognition, and outright nationalism that have played a part. The author challenges the notion that each country must necessarily have its own currency and explains why some newly independent countries have chosen to adopt the currency of another state. Citing the examples of international currency unions of the nineteenth century and the present day, he contends that sharing a currency does not represent a surrender of political sovereignty. Instead, Wilson argues for a more rational attitude toward money as a facilitator of transactions rather than as a symbol of national identity.

Steve H. Hanke, Johns Hopkins University

Paul Wilson skillfully sifts through the ever-changing, shifting sands of monetary sovereignty to produce a clear, coherent portrait. What do we see? That monetary sovereignty is all about the right to determine a unit of account, a means of payment, and, yes, the right to produce money.


Warren Coats, International Monetary Fund, 1976–2004; author of One Currency for Bosnia

The subject of money has intrigued us for millennia and has been treated in many books, but none like Paul Wilson’s fascinating account of how money helped fashion nations. The historical breadth of coverage is breathtaking and engrossing. The choice of monetary regimes has sometimes been determined by economic and sometimes by political considerations. Unsurprisingly, a distinct national currency has often been an important symbol of nationhood for newly independent countries, whether its value was linked to gold, another currency, an inflation target, or nothing at all. But as Wilson engagingly documents: ‘There is no single solution to the question of which currency regime should a new country adopt.’ Wilson traces more currency history than you probably thought you needed to know, but by the time you finish his absorbing account, you will be glad that you read every word.

Central Banking Journal

Any central banker who wishes to set the monetary history of his or her state in historic perspective and in its relation to broad international trends will find this stimulating book essential reading.

Cash & Payment News

The primary challenge through all of the stories recorded in the book is how to ensure stability in the value of the currency. Irrespective of whether the currency is based on a tangible object such as gold and/or silver, or linked in some way to another currency, citizens will seek out stable value. This book tracks the constant struggle of nations to do this, particularly where they lack scale, wealth or stability. Given the rise of cryptocurrencies, this book challenges the link between money and sovereignty. Monetary independence is separate from having your own currency.

Book of the year - International Banknote Society - 3rd place

'A potentially dry subject is however made accessible by the author’s readable style and broad scope of coverage of currency systems around the world and across ages. There is much here to fascinate paper money collectors keen to know more about the historical background of the notes they collect.'

A Guide to Good Money - Beyond the Illusions of Asset Inflation

In this thought–provoking work, Brendan Brown and Robert Pringle challenge the monetary policies currently practised by central banks and governments around the world. At the heart of this critique is their contention that one of the central tenets of current central banking policy – the desirability of a degree of inflation which is permitted and indeed stimulated by leading central bankers ( currently 2% for the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of England) - is misguided, resulting in ‘ Bad Money’ under which prices continually rise.  ‘Good Money, in this compelling study, permits prices to return to their proper levels after some relatively short period of unnaturally high prices.  Long and sometimes virulent episodes of monetary inflation, they assert, fuel irrational forces in the markets when real estate, commodities and equities are presented as a hedge against inflation. A flight from persistently inflating ‘ bad money’ disguises the true value – or lack of it  - of such assets. The authors describe these effects as illusions encouraging poor investment decisions in assets which, they counter, should in fact only rise in value as a result of advances in productivity.

Historic examples of efforts to manipulate monetary standards for short-term political purposes are cited, starting with the US billion-dollar congress in the late 19th century which passed the Sherman Silver act, purchasing silver at a higher than market rate to secure support from western farmers for other policies of the Republican party. The Fed’s low-interest rates in the 1920s and very recently Trump’s attempts to force the Fed to loosen monetary policy are also given as further examples of the way in which ‘ bad money’ is used to fix shocks which might in fact be no more than short term in nature. Better, the authors argue, to allow some short-term turbulence in markets to work its way out naturally, rather than try to fiddle with the underlying value of the currency. Where monetary policies are designed to counter short-term negative effects they will inevitably create a mood of short-term thinking, militating against long-term investments and projects which demand a long-term gestation.

The authors of A Guide to Good Money do not shy away from identifying the culprits. Despite the established orthodoxy of central banking independence, there is inevitably more than a little suspicion surrounding the motives in policy-making by people who owe their appointments or continuing tenure to political masters. Central banks which rescue damaging government policies with bailouts and are commended for doing so inevitably come in for criticism as does  ‘ Big Tech’. For Good Money to flourish, there must be limits on the power of the state. The state of Good Money needs to be constitutionally enshrined to protect it against interference by government and political parties.

What do the authors propose as a solution to this set of problems? There are two propositions: one is an entirely novel idea linking currencies to the real performance of stock markets. This idea is explored at length, but remains perhaps, far from fully developed. The second proposal involves the restoration of the gold standard with all its classical conditions: the fixing of the numeraire or unit of account ( the dollar, the euro, the pound sterling for example)  to a specific weight of gold; the free convertibility of paper currency to gold and the free export and import of that gold. This, many might think, is a daring suggestion. Neither Britain, the original adopter of the gold standard, nor the US, the last country to lock its currency into gold, were able to sustain that monetary contract. It is now more than fifty years since the US ‘closed the gold window’ bringing to an end the last officially permitted convertibility of paper currency into gold. Surely, the orthodoxy runs, gold has lost its credibility in the present world. Indeed, the IMF specifically forbids its member states from linking their currencies to gold. But haven’t Brown and Pringle got a point?  The Bank of England’s own online inflation calculator confirms that over the period of the gold standard’s sway, goods and services costing £10 in 1821 would cost £9:10 Shillings in 1914 when full gold convertibility was suspended on the outbreak of the first World war. Over that period of nearly a century inflation averaged at -0.1% per year, an astonishing record. In contrast to this remarkable period of stability ( and using the same, Bank of England Inflation Calculator ), goods and services costing £10 in 1931, the year in which the sterling came off the gold standard, would at the end of last year cost £540. 


A Guide to Good Money throws down the challenge: how far is a government prepared to go in condoning continuing and irreversible inflation before a major re-ordering becomes necessary? And if that re-ordering is accepted, what form other than the traditional gold standard can be a guarantee of stable currency over the long term? 

Paul Wilson

January 2023



PW Photo 3.jpg

After careers in the Army ( 1975 -1985 )and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ( 1986-1994) I joined De La Rue PLC, the British banknote and passport printers . Over my more than 20 years there in various roles including those of Sales Director of the Currency  Division and Managing Director of the Identity Systems business, I travelled to Central Asia, the Middle East, Transcaucasia, the Caribbean, the Balkans, Western Europe and both North and South America. Latterly, eight years in the role of Director of Government Relations presented an unique opportunity to observe the Westminster operation close - up.

On retirement from De La Rue in 2015, I accepted an invitation to join the staff of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce in 2016. I had hoped on retirement to do something in  support of UK’s exports, so this new appointment seemed to fit that wish. But there was an added incentive. The Iran Nuclear deal ( JCPOA) of 2015-2016 promised a lifting of  sanctions and therefore an improvement in trade between Iran and the UK among other countries in return for a freezing of Iran’s progress in nuclear research which could be  converted to nuclear weaponry. Thus the Chamber of Commerce was playing its part in support of the nuclear deal. I was Director General of the Chamber February 2018 to  December 2021,  a period covering Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and Iran’s reaction to
the withdrawal. I remain a non – executive director of the Chamber, but now spend  proportionately more of my time writing on various subjects of interest.

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