What Emerged from N.H.'S Woods in '44

By Cocheo, Steve | ABA Banking Journal, August 2008 | Go to article overview

What Emerged from N.H.'S Woods in '44


Cocheo, Steve, ABA Banking Journal


The D-Day landings in Normandy had just occurred, and the last stand of the Third Reich, the Battle of the Bulge, was still months away. Yet, Allied planning was well under way for the postwar world. And one of the key elements of that planning was money.

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Many of the roots of the war had begun in money issues, ranging from the crippling hyperinflation that aided Hitler's rise to power in Germany to the advent of the worldwide Great Depression. The discussions that would, after much preliminary planning and maneuvering, ensue at the Bretton Woods, N.H., World Monetary Stabilization Conference, in July 1944, were esoteric. Yet they would have far-reaching repercussions throughout modern economic history. Key among creations of the 45-nation conference were the International Monetary Fund and what came to be the World Bank.

Initially an effort of the major and minor Allies, the Bretton Woods agreements and the organizations that it birthed would be joined by Germany and Japan in 1952. Today, 185 countries belong to the Bank and the IMF.

But in 1944, there were many ideas, and only the slightest beginnings of consensus.

In March 1944 Banking featured a debate in print, "The Quest for Stability," drawn from papers, between two plans' proponents.

Head of one key school of thought was a name familiar to every survivor of a basic economics course: John Maynard Keynes. The British economist, by then a Lord, backed a complex system that would be based on an International Clearing Union, which would deal in an international bank-money called bancor. The proposed currency, which didn't fly, would have been a substitute for gold, its value fixed through a multi-faceted formula.

Another plan presented by Banking in its debate was advocated by Leon Fraser, former head of the Bank of International Settlements and then president of First National Bank of New York. …

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