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History of Political Economy 36.2 (2004) 273-293
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A Proposal for a "European Currency" in 1861:
The Forgotten Contribution of Carlos Morato Roma
José Luís Cardoso
I begin this paper with a statement of fact: Carlos Morato Roma (1798–1862) is one of the least studied and also, perhaps because of this, one of the most enigmatic authors in the history of nineteenth-century Portuguese economic thought. This statement justifies the brief outline (section 1) of his activity and the fundamental significance of his writings, in order to construct an overall framework for the contributions that he left behind on economic and financial matters.
Next, I wish to make a revelation: The last of his written works, published almost simultaneously in Portuguese (Roma 1861a) and French (Roma 1861b), contains a surprising and innovative proposal for the reform of the European monetary system through the adoption of a common European currency in those countries subscribing to such an idea. This revelation is the main motivation for the writing of this paper, so an attempt will be made to interpret the purpose and scope of his proposal (section 2). [End Page 273]
I end the paper with a warning: Notwithstanding its undeniable originality, Carlos Morato Roma's proposal has to be analyzed in the light of the discussion taking place at that time, in European academic, journalistic, and financial circles, about the solutions for the reform of the monetary system then in force (section 3). The reform of that system was a project whose pioneering nature must be carefully weighed and considered (section 4) in view of the politically embryonic and technically imprecise nature of the plans being aired for setting up a European currency, plans that, above all, intended to (1) consolidate the system by basing it on a single metal (gold) and (2) criticize the regime of bimetallism.
Morato Roma's considerations about the establishment of a common European currency thus serve as a pretext for revisiting identical and contemporary proposals put forward by authors such as Michel Chevalier, Emile Levasseur, Felix E. de Parieu, and Charles Le Touzé. They also provide an opportunity to briefly survey, and draw attention to, recent secondary literature on the monetary policy debates concerning the creation of the Latin Monetary Union in 1865 and the setting up of the International Monetary Conference in Paris in 1867.
1. Private Interests and Public Finance
Carlos Morato Roma concluded his studies in commerce and accountancy at the Aula do Comércio [School of Commerce] in 1813. Over the next twenty years, he held various positions in public administration, the most important of which was as the director of the accounts department at the Public Treasury. In 1836, he was elected to parliament and embarked on a parallel and brilliant career as a businessman operating in the financial sector.
In the 1840s and 1850s, Morato Roma emerged as one of the most prominent shareholders and, in some cases, as the chairman of the most important Portuguese financial institutions of that time, namely, some of the companies that lay at the origin of the Bank of Portugal (Companhia Confiança Nacional, Companhia de Crédito Nacional, Companhia União), the Bank of Portugal itself, and the Companhia das Obras Públicas de Portugal.1 [End Page 274]
His speeches in parliament, as well as other sundry articles and reports that he published, reveal his lifelong concern with justifying the importance of capital concentration processes, on the one hand, and the need for a suitable return on capital, on the other hand (Roma 1852, 19, 46). It seems clear that Morato Roma frequently expounded general criteria in order to defend and enhance his own position. But he also took care to underline not only the social and public benefits resulting from the association of individual capitalists, but also the supposed altruism of some companies that forwent the chance to make large profits in exchange for the noble ambition of contributing to an increase in collective happiness. Such was the tone...