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Reading the Bretton Woods debates.

February 24, 2012, 7:11 am

As one Telegraph blog says,

Students of economic history are in for a treat. An official studying deep in the bowels of the US Treasury library has recently uncovered a prize of truly startling proportions – an 800 page plus transcript of the Bretton Woods conference in July 1944, the meeting of nations which established the foundations of today’s international monetary system. … Those who have seen it say it is hard to point to any outright revelation about the talks, in which for Britain, the economist John Maynard Keynes was a leading player. But the level of intellectual debate is said to have been extraordinarily impressive, with exactly the same arguments as to voting rights and undue Western influence at the IMF and World Bank as exist today. The Indian delegation is said to have been particularly outspoken, despite the fact that India was still then a colony of the UK.

It’s not actually surprising that the Indian delegation was outspoken; this was one of the UK’s complaints about the conference. The problem was that the UK owed India money, and India wanted to get paid. Of course what you read in the transcripts about the Indian debt conversations isn’t everything that went on – “These conversations were carefully stage-managed by Lord Keynes, Sir Jeremy Raisman, and Dr. White,” as one official of the UK Commonwealth office said after the conference.

But the transcripts are in fact terrific. In my view they do hold some revelations, or at least illuminating portions, to do with the discussion over convertibility – this is one of the areas where the Indian delegation is outspoken – and over the clauses defining the goals of the IMF.

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