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

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  • Benn Steil

    (Council on Foreign Relations)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Benn Steil, 2013. "The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9925, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:pup:pbooks:9925
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    Cited by:

    1. José Antonio Ocampo, 2016. "A brief history of the international monetary system since Bretton Woods," WIDER Working Paper Series 097, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    2. Ocampo José Antonio, 2015. "Capital Account Liberalization and Management," WIDER Working Paper Series 048, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    3. Douglas A. Irwin, 2017. "The Missing Bretton Woods Debate over Flexible Exchange Rates," NBER Working Papers 23037, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Marcus Giamattei & Johann Lambsdorff, 2015. "Balancing the current account: experimental evidence on underconsumption," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, pages 670-696.
    5. Louzis, Dimitrios & Vouldis, Angelos, 2013. "A financial systemic stress index for Greece," Working Paper Series 1563, European Central Bank.
    6. repec:bla:intfin:v:19:y:2016:i:3:p:353-374 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Gros, Daniel & Alcidi, Cinzia, 2014. "The Global Economy in 2030: Trends and Strategies for Europe," CEPS Papers 9142, Centre for European Policy Studies.

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