The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order

By Luther, William J. | Independent Review, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order


Luther, William J., Independent Review


* The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order By Benn Steil Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013. Pp. ix, 449. $29.95 cloth.

On July 1, 1944, less than a month after Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, 730 delegates from forty-four nations gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel in Carroll, New Hampshire--an area more commonly known as Bretton Woods. With the White Mountains serving as a backdrop, the participants spent three weeks designing multilateral institutions to facilitate international economic cooperation after the war. To paraphrase Vassar economist and American delegate Mabel Newcomer, there was little time for hiking. Two of these institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the first of two institutions that compose the World Bank), continue to play significant roles in the global economy nearly seventy years later.

In his new book The Battle of Bretton Woods, Benn Steil provides a well- researched and interesting account of the historic monetary conference. Steil is currently a senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. He draws heavily on archival evidence and clearly explains the motivations underlying the complex interactions leading up to, during, and immediately following the Bretton Woods meeting. His efforts make for an enjoyable read.

At its core, Steil's book is a story of two men battling in the midst of a power transfer from Britain to the United States. An aging but nonetheless quick-witted John Maynard Keynes attended the conference as a British delegate. He was easily the most famous participant, a celebrity economist with ballerina wife in tow. Indeed, the U.S. Treasury feared he might steal the show. "[T]hey could not let the man near the podium on opening day" (p. 202). And although Keynes was an important figure at the conference, Steil writes that he was ultimately "shunted off to head a commission dealing with the bank," widespread agreement over which had made it a mere "peripheral" concern (p. 197).

Keynes comes across as more of a pundit than an economist in Steil's book, an advocate of "anti-Bolshevist Middle Way-ism" (p. 76). "Though he was a deep skeptic on the benefits of trying to engineer social change," Steil writes, "he had almost unbounded faith in the ability of experts to engineer the proper fixes for whatever economic ailments might afflict the nation at any point in time" (pp. 78-79). Many members of Congress viewed him as nothing more than "a slick-tongued, aristocratic bamboozler" (p. 202). And they were arguably justified in doing so: Keynes was "firmly entrenched within the British political establishment" (p. 96). He would do everything in his power to ease the plight of the fading empire.

Unfortunately for Britain, Keynes did not have much power. War debts had left the British delegation in a poor bargaining position. And Keynes's condescending tone only made matters worse. His idea for an international reserve asset, known as "bancor," was scrapped well before the July meeting. He could not get the bank or the fund located in London--or, once it was clear both would be based in the United States, in New York. After the war, he failed to secure an interest-flee loan for Britain. Indeed, his negotiating was so poor in this instance that on December 6, 1945, Britain settled for a worse deal than had been offered two months earlier. Yet, with every defeat, Keynes managed to spin a more favorable account of events. As such, Steil concludes, "Keynes was at least as concerned with maintaining his standing in the process as he was with molding the actual terms" (p. 187).

Opposite Keynes at Bretton Woods was Harry Dexter White. White had joined the U.S. Treasury on invitation of University of Chicago economist Jacob Viner in 1934 to assist with a study on the U. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.