Karl Blessing (1900-1971): A Biography


As a long-tenured Bundesbank President, Karl Blessing was part of the “functional elite” who were key to the financial and economic development of the Federal Republic of Germany. His life also exemplifies that of high officials in the Weimar Republic, whose careers often stretched across two or even three systemic shifts, something that has been little researched for the financial sector. There has yet to be a systematic investigation into milieu-based mentalities, self-images, value systems, and social and political views of the world with regard to Blessing, as well as personal networks and basic professional orientations between the Weimar Republic, the National Socialist state, and the Federal Republic.

Blessing’s career path was indeed marked in a variety of ways by the crossing of borders and ambiguities, at least for certain periods of time. Active at the Reichsbank since 1920, he rose to early prominence as an expert on international finances and reparation issues, and was able to move forward with his career as part of Hjalmar Schacht’s inner circle through 1933 and beyond. As a still relatively young man, he was appointed to the Reichsbank Managing Board in 1937 and was active, through 1945, in public banking, and the wartime and private economies. Blessing’s various activities in service to the Nazi state contrasted with his loose connections to the resistance movement centered on Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and Carl Goerdeler.

That, as well as his expertise in monetary policy, foreign trade and international transactions, alongside his developing strong contacts with the economic leadership of the incipient Federal Republic, made Blessing into a preferred candidate to be the first Bundesbank President. Between 1958 and 1969, he emerged in the domestic political arena as a supporter of price stability, while he advocated on the international stage for the gold exchange standard, building on its potential for monetary discipline. Blessing believed that excessive inflation endangered the social peace and inhibited sustainable growth, which was only to be pursued as a goal when its implementation did not come at the expense of price development. Anchored in these basic convictions, which he had taken from his experience of the era between the wars, he repeatedly opposed certain positions taken by cabinet members and economists, industrialists, and trade unions. This study will thus look into the role played by the Bundesbank under Blessing’s leadership during the economic boom, the concepts relating to central banking and democracy that were effective in that regard, and the type of balance between continuity and change that emerged in the process.

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