The Battle of Bretton Woods

The Battle of Bretton Woods

John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of A New World Order

Book - 2013
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A sweeping history of the drama, intrigue, and rivalry behind the creation of the postwar economic order

When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for 'a new Bretton Woods' to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of forty-four nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century's second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization. The actual story surrounding the historic Bretton Woods accords, however, is full of startling drama, intrigue, and rivalry, which are vividly brought to life in Benn Steil's epic account.

Upending the conventional wisdom that Bretton Woods was the product of an amiable Anglo-American collaboration, Steil shows that it was in reality part of a much more ambitious geopolitical agenda hatched within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and aimed at eliminating Britain as an economic and political rival. At the heart of the drama were the antipodal characters of John Maynard Keynes, the renowned and revolutionary British economist, and Harry Dexter White, the dogged, self-made American technocrat. Bringing to bear new and striking archival evidence, Steil offers the most compelling portrait yet of the complex and controversial figure of White--the architect of the dollar's privileged place in the Bretton Woods monetary system, who also, very privately, admired Soviet economic planning and engaged in clandestine communications with Soviet intelligence officials and agents over many years.

A remarkably deft work of storytelling that reveals how the blueprint for the postwar economic order was actually drawn, The Battle of Bretton Woods is destined to become a classic of economic and political history.

Publisher: Princeton :, Princeton University Press,, [2013]
Copyright Date: ©2013
ISBN: 9780691149097
Branch Call Number: 339.53 ST
Characteristics: viii, 449 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Jul 11, 2018

In July of 1944, even as American and British troops fought side-by-side through the hedgerows of Normandy, representatives of the two governments squared off against each other in a resort hotel overlooking the small town of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. They were gathered there, along with over 700 delegates from 42 other nations, to begin to construct a postwar international economic system. Attention was centered on Lord John Maynard Keynes, the most famous economist in the world and the head of the British delegation. As a result of the war the United Kingdom was "mortgaged to America", a situation their delegation was eager to mitigate or escape. The US delegation, meanwhile, saw the British Empire as a potential postwar rival, and would pursue an economic strategy designed to promote its dismemberment and assure postwar American dominance. The architect of this American strategy was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White, who organized and manipulated the conference, and who was also, unbeknownst to both his American and British peers, a Soviet agent.

Although the story of what happened at Bretton Woods - how it both succeeded and failed - is doubtlessly an important one, it mostly takes the form of interminable committee meetings and memoranda exchanges in which the most abstruse minutiae of international finance are discussed. Somehow, Steil finds enough interest in the characters and enough humor in the proceedings to keep the reader awake despite these handicaps.

Oct 22, 2014

[Most people, specifically Americans, are completely unaware that the number one lobbyist group for the international super-rich is the Bretton Woods Committee - - - - which only lobbies the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader.]
An excellent book, which essentially repeats the hard-researched truths I've come across over the years.


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