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Monday, October 29, 2012

A Monetary Historian's Delight

A fascinating and useful new e-book, The Bretton Woods Transcripts, has just been published by the Center for Financial Stability (CFS). It is the first publication of the transcripts of the famous international meeting that took place nearly 70 years ago in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire and founded the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The transcripts include important commentary by John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White and other representatives from 44 countries, many of whom went on to be key economic leaders in the early post war period.

While an 822 page “transcript” might turn off all but the most serious monetary scholars, Kurt Schuler, who discovered the transcripts in the Treasury, and his coeditor Andrew Rosenberg have done a remarkable job of making the book user friendly by editing, creating summaries, and providing a road map to guide the reader. Their own commentary, with lines such as “Keynes proceeded with lightning speed, hop-scotching across the provisions of the draft World Bank agreement, because he was able to hold all of its provisions in his mind in a way that probably no other delegate could,” are fascinating on their own right. Moreover, standard search engines allow one to easily scan through the document looking for topics or participants.

In reading through various passages, I was most impressed by the foresight of the participants at the conference and their spirit of international cooperation, as they hammered out the agreements. Coincidently, at this past summer’s Jackson Hole Conference, Jaime Caruana—the head of the Bank for International Settlements—argued in a speech that there is now a need for more international cooperation in monetary policy. There was pushback from several central bankers at the meeting, but if they change their minds (I hope they do) and move in Caruana’s direction, then a careful examination of these transcripts is the place to begin.