My previous post was about time travel. I am just back from a time journey of a different kind - the rather discreet Bank for International Settlements, an international organisation banking for central banks, is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary by means of a public exhibition which entails a guided tour around the very recently refurbished "public" (i.e. for those few people who normally have access to the building) area. And that's where the time journey bit kicks in: Although the interior redesign has been done by our local world champions Herzog & de Meuron who evidently do not even need a website, it has been done in an absolutely horrible gentrified 70ies style! This may please some of the good folk over at Wallpaper*, but certainly not me. I wonder whether this is indicative of central bankers' retro oriented taste, or, contrarily, of their being at the avant garde - I hope it's the former!
OK, that much for rambling. Otherwise, the exhibition is surprisingly good. There is a comprehensive section on the institution's long & complex history which does not spare the difficult wartime period, including for example the Czech gold affair which is documented with the original transfer files. Following the timeline, it is easy to see how the BIS adjusted from the rigid world of central banks under the gold standard via the highly secretive regime of the Bretton Woods system to today's free flotation of exchange rates. The change is easy to see now, but it was probably not easy to accomplish at the time. Today, the BIS has completely relinquished its incumbent rôle as clearing house for German war reparations and operates as a highly liquid commercial bank serving central banks as well as a discreet meeting point for central bankers and provider & facilitator of research into financial system stability & regulation (hence Basel II).
There is also a section describing today's financial system and the BIS' rôle in trying to maintain its stability, but naturally this can only really scratch the surface of this highly technical matter. The evidently fundamentalist people who were distributing flyers voicing their opposition to the BIS probably haven't even gone so far as to try & understand what it's all about. Their critique is really quite out of proportion and thus almost comical, especially since they apply double standards themselves: They accuse the BIS of lack of public accountability & transparency, but they don't sign their flyer and just give us email@example.com as a point of contact - rather cowardly, I'd say.
Personally, I am happy to have the BIS in Basle and would still be a proud stockowner if those stocks held by the general public hadn't been bought out at a very healthy profit back in 2001 ... thanks for that, too! If you want to go & see the exhibition, you'd better hurry - it only lasts until Tuesday, July 12th.