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The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Princeton University Press)) von [Steil, Benn]
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The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Princeton University Press)) Kindle Edition

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Winner of the 2013 Spear's Book Award in Financial History
Co-Winner of the 2014 Bronze Medal in Economics, Axiom Business Book Awards
One of "The Motley Fool"'s (John Reeves) 10 Great Books on American Economic History
One of "Financial Times" ( Best History Books of 2013
One of "Bloomberg News"' Top Business Books of 2013
One of "Kirkus Reviews"' Best Nonfiction Books of the Year for 2013 in Business and Economics
One of "Bloomberg/Businessweek" Best Books of 2013, as selected individually by Fredrik Erixon, Scott Minerd, Olli Rehn and Alan Greenspan
Featured in "The Sunday Times" 2013 Holiday Roundup
Shortlisted for the 2013 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards in Finance & Economics
Honorable Mention for the 2014 Arthur Ross Book Award, Council on Foreign Relations
Shortlisted for the 2014 Lionel Gelber Prize, Lionel Gelber Foundation

""The Battle of Bretton Woods" should become the gold standard on its topic. The details are addictive."--Fred Andrews, "New York Times"

"Steil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, understands the economic issues at stake and has done meticulous research on the history. Every good story that has ever been told about the major actors involved and the happening itself is in his book, and a few more besides. For those who come fresh to the subject, and even for those who know most of it, it is an excellent and revealing account."--Robert Skidelsky, "New York Review of Books"

"A superb history. Mr. Steil . . . is a talented storyteller."--James Grant, "Wall Street Journal"

"[A] masterful (and readable) account of American "realpolitik" and British delusion."--Andrew Hilton, "Financial World"

"Steil's book, engaging and entertaining, perceptive and instructive, is a triumph of economic and diplomatic history. Everything is here: political chicanery, bureaucratic skulduggery, espionage, hard economic detail and the acid humour of men making history under pressure."--Tony Barber, "Financial Times"

"This is a fantastic book. Gold and money, two of my favorite topics. It's also brilliantly insightful history, and a gripping spy thriller to boot."--Larry Kudlow, "CNBC"

"[T]he author masterfully translates the arcana of competing theories of monetary policy, and a final chapter explains how, while some of the institutions created by Bretton Woods endure--the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund--many of the conference's assumptions were swiftly overtaken by the Marshall Plan. Throughout Steil's sharp discussion runs the intriguing subplot of White's career-long, secret relationship with Soviet intelligence. A vivid, highly informed portrayal of the personalities, politics and policies dominating 'the most important international gathering since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.'"--"Kirkus Reviews" (starred review)

"In his masterful account, "The Battle of Bretton Woods," Steil situates the conference firmly in the tense, heightened atmosphere of the final months of World War II. . . . Steil's book comes alive in his description of [Keynes' and White's] contrasting experiences at the conference."--Sam Knight, "Bloomberg News"

"[H]ypnotically readable."--Peter Passell, "Milken Institute Review"

"[T]hought provoking and well written."--Kathleen Burk, "Literary Review"

"This is an excellent book. . . . [It] also contains some explosive revelations about White's work as a Soviet spy, very well documented I might add."--Tyler Cowen, "Marginal Revolution"

"If you think economics and finance are dry subjects at best, Steil's book offers a refreshing surprise. It's a political thriller in which the protagonists, one whom you think you know and one whom you probably don't, are much more intriguing (in both senses of the word) than they first appear."--Daniel Altman, "Big Think"

"[I]n a new book explaining what really happened at Bretton Woods, Benn Steil shows that what happened in the mountains of New Hampshire that summer is not quite the story we have been told."--Neil Irwin, ""

"[Benn Steil's] new book "The Battle of Bretton Woods" is perhaps the most accessible study yet of a key moment in world economic history that nonetheless is poorly understood."--Kevin Carmichael, "Globe & Mail"

"The clash between Keynes and White forms a central theme in Benn Steil's absorbing book, which should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the not-so-special relationship between the US and Britain."--Geoffrey Owen, "Standpoint Magazine"

"[F]ascinating. . . . Steil . . . spins the tale of how U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, a close friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowed White, a little-known economist who wasn't even on the U.S. Treasury's regular payroll, to dominate the department's monetary and trade policies beginning in the 1930s."--John M. Barry, "USA Today"

"[A] well-written, fascinating history of the Bretton Woods conference on the international monetary system in July 1941. The book is deep, well researched, and hard to put down. Benn Steil . . . has produced a book that will help us to understand history, but also one we can use to contrast with the current international economic situation. . . . This is a very good book."--John M. Mason, "Seeking Alpha"

"I do hope the title of this riveting read does not put off readers who mistake Benn Steil's latest work for an arcane discussion of exchange rates, the gold standard and the stuff of debates in commons rooms. This book is more than that, much more. It is a tale of a battle of titans and of a war between nations, each intent on establishing the economic architecture that would ensure its postwar economic domination of world finance."--Irwin Stelzer, "Sunday Times"

"[V]ivid personality portraits and a lively writing style."--Mike Foster, "Financial News"

"[F]ascinating. . . . [R]iveting. . . . "The Battle of Bretton Woods" is chock-full of provocative and timely observations."--Glenn C. Altschuler, "Tulsa World"

"President Obama would be wise to take it to Martha's Vineyard this summer."--John Tamny, ""

"Benn Steil has just completed a fascinating book that looks at what really happened in the small New Hampshire town of Bretton Woods in 1944. Perhaps most surprising is that the real story that emerges isn't a tale of how 44 countries came together to rebuild the world. And the real story has different lessons for the 21st century than ambitious idealists might expect."--Andrew Sawers, "Economia"

"[A] splendid book. . . . If you want to understand the gold standard, the always-doomed dollar standard, why the IMF is in Washington, how the US deliberately humiliated Britain over debt before, during and after WWII as part of a very real currency war (but also out of genuine anti-colonial sentiment that the British never understood), this is the book for you. . . . Every year publishers come out with a couple of purportedly serious books on FX, some by VIPs, and I read them all. This is the only one since Paul Volcker's "Changing Fortunes" in 1979 that is worth the price. It is non-partisan, well-written, thorough, and chock-full of the historical perspective that can so easily and so often get lost in the hurly-burly of the daily market."--Barbara Rockefeller, "Harriman Intelligence blog"

"[A] provocative, lively and perceptive book that pulls together economics, politics, diplomacy and history and relates it to our current crisis."--Keith Simpson MP, "Total Politics"

"This thorough, fascinating account of the international conference that culminated in the 1944 agreement to maintain stable exchange rates skillfully places it in its economic and geopolitical context. . . . Steil not only recounts the intricacies of the deal making but also details the economic dimensions of Bretton Woods. . . . With the help of 10 research assistants, Steil has tirelessly tracked down minute details of the Bretton Woods story and its epilogue. . . . [Steil] offers excellent insight into the tribulations of the key players. He also tells the interesting tale of how, if not for the well-founded suspicions regarding Harry Dexter White's cooperation with Communist spies, the tradition of an American heading the World Bank and a European heading the IMF would have been reversed."--"Financial Analysts Journal"

"Steil understands the economics at the heart of the tortuous negotiations, but he is also very good at explaining the politics, the power and the passions--the professional and personal rivalries--of the people at the negotiating table. He turns what could have been a dry account of economic accords into a thrilling story of ambition, drama, and intrigue."--Keith Richmond, "Tribune Magazine," UK

"[A] very well-written history, with lively personalities, [which] also serves as a great overview of the analytical issues in international monetary arrangements."--Diane Coyle, "Enlightened Economist" blog

"Absorbing . . . as an account of history-making at the highest level, this entertaining, informative, gossipy and, for the lay reader, often challenging book provides an excellent read."--Richard Steyn, "Financial Mail"

"[A]n amazing true story . . . highly entertaining."--Ian McMaster, "Business Spotlight"

"An object lesson in how to make economic history at once entertaining and instructive."--"Financial Times," "Books of the Year So Far" Summer Reading Guide

"A valuable addition to the economic history literature."--"Choice"

"It's always nice when you can combine outside reading for fun with something that is educational. . . . [A] good read that is also good for you."--Daniel Shaviro, "Jotwell"

"The book provides a terrifically written, gossipy account of the origins of Bretton Woods. . . . Since the world spent several decades under the clumsy (and, to the U.S., costly) Bretton Woods regime, and since you sometimes hear people harkening back to that time as a golden age (which it surely was not), . . . it is an important read for our day."--Dan Littman, Senior Payments Research Consultant and Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

"Benn Steil [of the] Council on Foreign Relations has written a fascinating book on the two main architects behind the Bretton Woods system. . . . Steil's book is an outstanding piece of political science research . . . extremely well written and well documented. . . . It is strongly recommended."--Morten Balling, "SUERF Newsletter"

"Benn Steil's remarkable book . . . is an account of how the IMF first came to be, back in the sleepy New Hampshire summer of 1944. . . . "The Battle of Bretton Woods" is an essential volume in any understanding of John Maynard Keynes, who though now seven decades gone is as influential a mind as we may yet see in the twenty-first century."--Brian Domitrovic, "Library of Law and Liberty blog"

"Steil's book . . . shows how normally abstruse economic and diplomatic history can be made palatable and even alluring to the general reader."--Christopher Silvester, "Spear's"

"[A] fascinating account of the developments leading up to the Bretton Woods conference and its immediate aftermath, from the point of view of the two main characters involved: John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White. The book is based on extensive archive work, so often the participants speak for themselves, which makes for interesting reading."--Isaac Alfon, "Central Banking Journal"

""The Battle of Bretton Woods" sets forth in smooth prose and concise detail an authoritative narrative of the who-what-when-why of the great monetary conference of some 70 years ago. It is jam-packed with heady discussions. . . . If we're fortunate, Benn Steil will deliver a follow-up."--Kevin R. Kosar, "Weekly Standard"

"Individual persons are at the center of the story, which also comes loaded with tales of international intrigue, spycraft, and famous personalities. It's not just for history buffs and economics geeks."--Douglas French, "Freeman," publication of the Foundation for Economic Education

"Seduced by Keynes's rhetorical repudiation both of the 'austerity' implied by [promptly paying off Britain's war debts] and the 'temptation' of accepting a loan, the British shipped Keynes to Washington . . . to seek 'justice', to wit, the third option. In his recent history of the period, Benn Steil deftly paints what ensued."--Patrick Honohan, "Irish Times"

"[T]his thought-provoking book is about much more than the 1944 conference that established the architecture of the postwar international monetary system, leading to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank."--"Foreign Affairs"

"Benn Steil has crafted a fine history. . . . Characterized by fine and entertaining writing, "The Battle of Bretton Woods" is economic and political history in engrossing detail."--Satyajit Das, "Naked Capitalism"

"Benn Steil provides a well-researched and interesting account of the historic monetary conference. . . . His efforts make for an enjoyable read. . . . Steil is perhaps at his best when articulating how the Bretton Woods system differed from the classical gold standard--a difference that would ultimately lead to the failure of Bretton Woods. . . . Steil's excellent book should serve as a gentle reminder of which monetary systems have worked well in the past--and which should not be repeated."--William J. Luther, "SSRN's Economic History eJournal"

"An informed citizenry includes an understanding of our economy and how it is integrated into the global financial system. For this, it is important to start from the . . . discussions that occurred among 44 nations in the idyllic and calm resort at Bretton Woods, N.H., in 1944. [Benn Steil's] new book details not only the meeting but the deep arguments between the British economist John Maynard Keynes and [American Treasury official] Harry Dexter White. . . . This is a serious book of political economic history."--Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, "DCMilitary"

"Benn Steil's book provides a fascinating account of the developments leading up to the Bretton Woods conference and its immediate aftermath, from the point of view of the two main characters involved: John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White. The book is based on extensive archive work, so often the participants speak for themselves, which makes for interesting reading."--Isaac Alfon, "Central Banking Journal"

"This masterful account dismantles the idyllic picture of the 1944 Bretton Woods international economic conference, situating it firmly in the tense atmosphere of the final months of World War II."--Laurie Muchnick, "Bloomberg" Top Business Books of 2013

"Steil's book is an object lesson in how to make economic history entertaining and instructive."--Tony Barber, "Financial Times"

"Benn Steil not only produces the finest account of the conference that established the Pax Americana economic system after World War II, he does it with the skill of a novelist."--Jon Talton, ""

"[A] well-documented, engaging account of the Bretton Woods Conference. . . . The material on Harry Dexter White is fascinating . . . an essential reference [with] much to teach economic historians."--Joshua Hausman, "Journal of Economic History"

""The Battle of Bretton Woods" is a thorough and fascinating account of a historic event, skillfully placed in its economic and geopolitical context. [H]e offers excellent insight into the tribulations of the key players. He also tells the interesting tale of how, if not for the well-founded suspicions regarding Harry Dexter White's cooperation with Communist spies, the tradition of an American heading the World Bank and a European heading the IMF would have been reversed."--Martin S. Fridson, "Financial Analysts Journal"

"Steil's book is essential reading for students of multilateralism, diplomacy, and international economic relations. . . . It is also an excellent overview of the behind-the-scenes machinations that caused Britain to agree to the final document that placed America, and the dollar, at the top of the global financial pyramid. . . . [O]f primary interest to most readers . . . it is a fascinating and nuanced glimpse into the psychology of Second World War era economic espionage."--Marc D. Froese, "International Journal"

"This story is well told. It is also well known. . . . Steil is targeting a broader audience than scholars, however, and in that sense, this book is a success at recasting a surprisingly exciting story."--Thomas W. Zeiler, "Register of the Kentucky Historical Society"

"Steil breathes new life and controversy into a familiar story by emphasizing the intellectual and political clash between John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White."--James McAllister, "H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable"

"Steil rarely puts a foot wrong. His analysis of policies and personalities, however he has acquired his knowledge, reflects a sophisticated understanding of the inner workings of financial diplomacy."--Stephen Schuker, "H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable"

"[A]n ably crafted narrative."--Darel Paul, "H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable"

"[The book] is a welcome departure from less political, or more American-centric, accounts of Bretton Woods."--William Glenn Gray, "H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable"

"[T]his is a beautiful narrative of the making of Bretton Woods, based on serious archival research and with some nice old photos as illustrations."--Ivo Maes, "History of Economic Ideas"

"A gripping account. . . . John Le Carre meets international monetary history: this is clearly a different kind of page-turner."--Jayati Ghosh, "Economic & Political Weekly"

""The Battle of Bretton Woods" is a remarkable work that embraces many disciplines: history, economic history, political economy and international relations. Benn Steil is able to merge the different perspectives from all these disciplines, taking the reader into both the political battle and the economic thinking that took place at Bretton Woods."--Anna Missiaia, "Financial History Review"

"Epic."--Ashok Rao, "Vox"

"[E]ngaging and instructive . . . Benn Steil has written a book full of historical insight and human color."--Robert L. Hetzel, "Econ Focus"

"[A] good piece of historical investigation that will put an end to doubts as to whether White was in fact a Soviet agent."--Maria Cristina Marcuzzo, "Economica"

"[A] thoughtful and well-researched addition to economic history."--Mark L. Wilson, "Journal of Economic Issues"

"With extensive, original research, Benn Steil has rewritten the history of the conference. Steil reveals the illusions of its two central figures: John Maynard Keynes, the most famous economist of the twentieth century and a senior member of the British delegation, and Harry Dexter White, the little-known assistant secretary of the US Treasury, who almost singlehandedly ran the conference. . . . A major contribution to economic, intellectual, and political history, which is accessible to a wide audience and presents an endlessly fascinating portrait of two complicated men."--Carl, Strikwerda, "The Historian"


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.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 4464 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 478 Seiten
  • Verlag: Princeton University Press (11. Februar 2013)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ASIN: B00B5ZQ72Y
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Benn Steil’s vivid and masterly account of the last formal attempt to create a rule based international monetary system (the Bretton-Woods-System) for the post WWII world is not only informative and entertaining but also sheds ample light on the non-economic issues surrounding the power brokers, their interests, and personalities. Beyond that, the book demonstrates (once again) why the Bretton-Woods-System was short lived and had to fail (in 1971). When making full convertibility the stringent criteria for the duration of the Bretton-Woods-System it lasted only 10 years - from 1961 to 1971. Without the gradual deterioration of the US (Truman) and UDSSR (Stalin) relationship after WWII which triggered the birth of the Marshall Plan (1947) for the economic rehabilitation of Europe, the Bretton-Woods-System would probably have faltered even earlier.

Among the many books and scientific articles about the Bretton-Woods-System Steil’s account stands out as a very readable and excellently researched summary of the actual process of the long drawn out negotiations between the two protagonists (and their masters) of this “Battle” – Harry Dexter White (1892-1948) and John Maynard Keyes (1883-1946) during the latter years of WWII. As Steil develops the many aspects of the story of the negotiations, the reader is able to grasp the emotional aspects between the two combatants (and others) and the powerful economic interests the two parties represented at the time. The outcome is known and Steil’s story illuminates the whys.

There are several points in Steil’s account which have raised objections. They relate to the role of Harry Dexter White towards the Soviet Union (was White a spy?
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Ein Einblick hinter die Kulissen der Konferenz von Bretton Woods, die immerhin für fast 30 Jahre die Basis für das weltweite Geldsystem definierte.
Für Keynes-Interessierte fast schon en Muss, ebenso wie für alle anderen, die sich für die Historie der Ökonomie interessieren.
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Der Inhalte des Buches ist sehr gut. Der Verarbeitung ist aber eine Katastrophe. Die Schnittkanten sind ungleichmäßig und wellig verarbeitet.
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.4 von 5 Sternen 117 Rezensionen
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Epic Battle of Epic Historical Importance 16. Februar 2013
Von D. B. Collum - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
"Battle of Bretton Woods" by Benn Steil

Benn Steil is an exceptional scholar hailing from the Council on Foreign Relations. I approached this book with high expectations and was not disappointed. If I had a buck for every blog, article, or interview referring to the Bretton Woods conference, dollar hegemony, the gold standard, and related monetary matters I could stop reading stuff like this because I would be rich. I surmise, however, that not one in 100 understand what really happened. I do not know if this is THE definitive work on the Bretton Woods conference but it certainly is a definitive treatise. Those who love quotes will burn through a few highlighters. (I did.) The intense discussions--snarky attacks and counterattacks by the combatants--are relayed in detail and in living color. Steil successfully takes you back to the events as though you were there. Minor warning: You do not need to be a wonk to love this book, but you must have some appreciation for wonky. It is not dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. Currency jocks will love the detailed descriptions of the battles over fixed exchange rates, adjustable exchange rates, free trade, dollar hegemony, and the role of gold in this new era.

Steil's discussion can be crudely described in three parts: (1) the decades leading up to the 1944 Bretton Woods conference; (2) the actual conference in which the next 50 years of currency exhanges and global trading rules would be mapped out; and (3) the consequences to the post-war world. The conference stemmed from a few astute players who realized that the world could fall into chaos if plans were not made in advance to establish a global currency regime and rules of global trade--a New World Order. This is that story and the subplots that bring life to the historically profound period.

At stake was a power struggle between the British and the US to establish post war dominance. My preconceived (and decidedly incorrect) notion of WWII was naively simple: the Brits got in a pan-European brawl; the isolationist-prone US sent massive military weaponry and aid via the Lend-Lease program to their strong ally; with Pearl Harbor as a proximate trigger, we entered the war. In reality, the Americans and the British were in a battle royale. The British were trying to establish an aid arrangement that would leave them strong enough to recover some of their imperial splendor after the war. The Americans placed extremely stringent demands on the so-called Lend-Lease program with the explicit intention of leaving the British economically prostrate to ensure American hegemony. There was nothing warm and fuzzy about the alliance. The Battle of Bretton Woods was indeed a battle spanning a number of years, and it got very ugly.

A large portion of the fight was by proxy through two critical figures. Economist John Maynard Keynes, one of the most prominent intellects of the 20th century (whether you like his economic theories or not, which I don't) squared off against Harry Dexter White, a determined yet highly enigmatic American. These two guys were attempting to determine the fate of the global economy through a war of wits and fierce negotions over three years preceeding the conference and at the conference with representatives from dozens of nations. At the conclusion of the conference, each was forced to turn their ample skill to beat back fierce resistance with their respective political elites back home to sell the agreements. It was arguably a fight to the death: both White and Keynes died of heart attacks soon thereafter. One could legitimately argue the Battle killed them.

My image of and respect for Keynes evolved enormously, not as an economist but rather as an unlikely diplomat. He was cantankerous to a fault, but he somehow found a way to compromise when necessary to optimize an otherwise very weak position for Britain and, most importantly, help seal an historically profound agreement. Harry Dexter White's character is confounding and enigmatic. He displayed an unorthodox desire for a strong post-war Russian-Soviet alliance. His pro-Soviet stance is a fascinating sub-plot that only begins to clarify in the post war (cold war) period.

The detailed analysis up to the mid 1950s gives way to a relatively brief synopsis in which Steil races us through the next half century briskly. This final portion, most of which is contained in the Epilogue, is filled with subject matter popular in the blogosphere that I had read many, many times. Steil takes us through deGaulle demanding gold, Nixon taking us off the last residue of the gold standard, the dollar's impact as the reserve currency, and central bankers aggressively fiddling with monetary policy. There was, however, a difference between this post-war synopsis and the reading the blogs: I understood it in a much deeper, contextually accurate way. I've finally got it; I understand our roots. Does it leave me more sanguine about current monetary policies and about the future? Not in the slightest.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen American Bullies at Bretton Woods 9. März 2013
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There, I said it, and I am an American.

I had heard of the conference but never read about it, and certainly had never heard of Harry Dexter White, but this book goes to great length to explain what happened in this important meeting as World War II was drawing to a close and a plan needed to be developed for a new world order regarding the flows of money to facilitate trade and avoid economic disruptions that the world had seen far too much of.

Steil presents more information on John Maynard Keynes than his American antithesis, Harry Dexter White, and for good reason. Keynes was simply one of the most, if not the most, brilliant intellectuals of the 20th century. His theories of economics were evolving through his life, but he is most remembered for his idea that government stimulus could help alleviate a faltering economy when the private sector failed to do the job, and he was opposed as he said to the "gold cage" that for years had been the standard of international finance. He had a biting wit, coupled with a superior intelligence that far outshone his meager appearance (he was ugly, and knew it) but he was cast in the role of a diplomat to present the case for England as the world entered the post war period.

The problem was that England was broke. She had endured two world wars in the space of 30 years and the empire was begging for funds from Washington, and most of her debt to the US from the Great War was still unpaid. She also had an enemy in FDR, who was determined that the imperial preference of England after the war was to be no more. Her crown jewel, India, was pressing for independence and the empire was in the process of unwinding, as was the strength of the British sterling. Keynes pressed to have the new institutions of the World Bank and the IMF located in London, and the Americans under the leadership of White simply said "hell no."

Enter Harry Dexter White. The name is as deceptive as the individual. He was a son of Jewish immigrants, graduating from Harvard late in life, but brilliant in his intellect and determined that America would rule by the strenght of the dollar and Britain was to be no more as a world power. It was interesting to me to see the Treasury Department so powerful over this whole thing. You may think that the Department of State would have more of an influence because these were important global decisions, but their input was minimal. Regardless, White was a Soviet sympathizer and was just in the process of getting raked over the coals when he died early after the war from a heart attack. Keynes also died at the age of 62, not long after the war. The world remember Keynes and White is more of a footnote. I personally did not like White. He reminded me of a Himmler with his rim glasses and nasty litte mustache. As for his boss, Henry Morganthau, Secretary of Treasury, he was little better. His idiotic plan to strip Germany of all industrial capability after the war and turn it into a nation of small farms was leaked to the press and Goebbels made hay of it, likely resulting in many more American casualities toward the end of the war. Just goes to show that FDR used some strange people in his administration. Thank God his selection of generals was far better.

America was brutal toward the British at Bretton Woods. We often think of the English speaking peoples uniting and working together in true harmony to defeat the fascist nations. That is a myth and this book helps bust it. It shows to me how inhuman America was to our British allies, who bore much of the battle of this war alone, with little hope of survival. It is said that when Winston Churchill learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he knew that England would win the war and when he retired, he slept like a baby. Little did he know that the selfishness of the U.S. government would put a boot on the neck of England after the war. Churchill once said that the Germans were either at your throat or under your foot. The later part of that pertains to the American response to England toward the end of the war and after.

A good book. Great information, and highly recommended.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen an incomplete account 6. April 2013
Von Mark bennett - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
This book sets out to explain Bretton Woods and to explain it in the context of the differences between Harry Dexter White and John Maynard Keynes. But it's a rather frustrating book because its narrow construction leads to a somewhat narrow understanding of the problem. It also offers up a somewhat false choice between the two sets of bad ideas which were not all that different.

The international monetary crisis began in the First World War. The debts, gold and trade imbalances created by the war in favor of the United States destabilized the entire world economy. However, rather than seeing the situation as one that needed to be corrected, the United States viewed the unstable system as the natural order of things. The solution to every global problem was increased American exports in the name of "free" trade. The real problem of the 1920s wasn't maintaining the gold standard, but rather jury-rigging the system so that indebted countries could keep paying for American imports.

The author gives a decent account of the period, but he fails to see that basic problem in the system. He spends lots of time on the development of Keynes ideas and the gold standard. But often in a way that doesn't go anywhere. Keynes could argue against the British gold standard in the 1920s, but what he was arguing for ultimately was devaluation of currency as a solution. But devaluation is never really a solution. Internationally, it's a zero-sum game. Those who devalue get a benefit from those who don't. If all the debtors devalue, the creditors begin to devalue. Devaluation ultimately becomes (as it has in 2013) competitive with everyone trying to devalue.

By the 1930s, many had decided that the private economy was the enemy. That coordinated government policy could overcome the laws of economics (and physics). As the book shows, the US didn't really abandon the gold standard. It simply nationalized the gold standard and made it a thing apart from the private economy. Confiscation policies created a massive US gold hoard in the hands of the government. I don't think the book captures the important point that what many of its subjects were trying to do in the 1930s was to make their domestic economies "walled gardens" in which any policy was allowed while the international economy would be strictly controlled by governments. This was of course, ultimately impossible.

While the book is good in covering US and UK policy at that time, it's not so good at covering the policy of other countries. In particular, it's very negative toward the bilateral trade mechanisms that worked well for Germany and others.

The book then shifts to its core: White and Keynes.

Harry Dexter White has always been an enigma. The different parts of his life as soviet spy and American government official are impossible to reconcile. The book indicates that he was not a committed communist or true believer. It somewhat pushes the idea that he was simply in love with the sort of controlled, centrally planned economy that the Soviet Union represented. He saw government control of all economic activity as a great dream.

The book brings one new thing to the study of White. The author found a two-page memo which gives a degree of insight into White's inner thoughts. They reveal him to be a rather stupid bigot who thought the Soviet Union had a large private economy with small farmers, bondholders, independent service workers and so on. The New Deal was no different than the Soviet System in his opinion. All negative opinions of the Soviet Union were simply ignorance or the hand of the sinister Roman Catholic conspiracy at work. He honestly believed that the Soviet model represented the future of the entire world. That he knew nothing really of the Soviet Union other than its propaganda makes him look all the more of a fool.

The book makes a major mistake in treating "operation snow" as a serious source and buying all into its conspiracy theories with regard to White and Pearl Harbor. White was responsible for many bad things, but not Pearl Harbor. While the book pushes "operation snow"'s nonsense, it ignores and does not cover the real damage that White and his friends did to the Chinese economy during World War Two through the US Treasury.

Keynes' idea was to "nationalize" all international trade and movement of wealth. There were a non-monitary settlment mechanism for international trade between countries (bankors) that could be dynamically adjusted. Keynes proposal eliminated
the problems of good money versus bad, the holding of gold and the movement of currency between trading partners. But it
eliminated such things at the price of creating a closed system where governments controlled every bit of wealth under a system of absolute capital controls.

Keynes motivations were also rather questionable. The primary motivation seems to have been to eliminate the power of market forces internationally to interfere with or respond to the keynesian policies of individual governments. That private wealth should not be able to move in response to Keynesian policies that would tend to devalue it. His position almost seemed to be to protect governments and government policies from economic consequences while leaving individuals full exposure to those consequences.

I dont think Keynes plan was all that different ultimately from that of white. Either system ultimately would depend on the gold reserves, economic health and ability to back the system of the United States. Keynes could not wish or pretend away the outsized economic influence of the united states in that era.

I dont think Keynes system could have ever worked. Trade, the movement of money and economic reporting could never have been controlled that tightly. There would be incredible incentives in the system to misreport trade information to game the system. Oddly enough, the system would have had many of the same flaws of the Euro zone with the United States in the world playing the role of Germany in the Euro. There would fraud (Greece). There would be countries that gamed the system (Italy, Spain). There would be terrible conflicts over policy because of the different needs of countries. And ultimately the biggest player in the system (Germany) would have to agree to bail out anyone and everyone in the system if necessary.

Good coverage is given to the hostility of US policy toward the UK during the war. The full hostility and farce of "lend lease" is exposed for all to see in a way few have previously dared. While the US followed a policy of appeasement of the Soviet Union, it followed an overtly hostile policy toward the British. They were to be placed in a position of dependence and debt....then instructed what to do. US priority was not international stability after the war. Even winning the war comes across as a rather secondary priority. The top priority was to pry open every corner of the world (except the Soviet Union) to American exports valued in dollars. The author, at best, portrays FDR as a sort of amiable aristocratic dunce who didn't understand the policies of his own government.

The Bretton Woods conference is the least interesting part of the book. The conference was essentially a stage-managed event where nothing was decided. The author tries to make a distinction between White's gold-backed dollar system of international trade and Keynes artificial currency system. The author does not make the point that they really amounted to the same thing. Good money always drives out bad. In an artificial system, someone will still end up holding the dollars and the gold rather than the drachmas. Keynes system would have been no better than that of White.

In the aftermath of the conference, the author spends too much time on spying and not enough time outlining the scope of the economic disaster created by US policy globally in the postwar period. In many ways, the Marshall Plan was not an act of generosity, but rather of desperation. By calling in all debts owed by the UK days after the end of the war, the US brought the UK and the economies associated with it to their knees. The US plan to basically remove the Germany economy permanently from the world economy brought more ruin across Europe.

Perhaps this was White's plan all along. His economic system created conditions that helped no one in Europe aside from various communist movements. His plans also fit into soviet propaganda against the selfishness of US policy in Europe. And while the UK had to beg for a few billion after the war, White was desperately trying to arrange a US gift of three times as much money directly to the Soviet Union. FDR's death seemed to have ended that dream. But he did manage to get the occupation currency printing plates handed over to the Soviet Union which promply printed the script into oblivion with the Americans picking up the full tab.

Had things gone White's way, it's easy to imagine what it would have looked like. The war economy of the US with its central planning, controls and rationing would have continued forever. The US and its soviet "friend" would have determined based on the economic crisis in Europe that centrally planned wartime economies would be the solution in France, Italy, the UK and Germany. White would personally use the IMF and World Bank to reward and punish countries.

The book is flawed in that it does not properly cover all the events in Europe that eventually lead to the creation of the economic union and the euro. He doesn't quite understand the French and German resistance in Europe to Americans economic ideas. He sees things often from a very exclusively American or British perspective. He doesn't cover the economic costs of "containment" nor does he deal with the rise of the "Eurodollar" market in the postwar period.

He gives a very sketchy study of the contradictions that ultimately brought down Bretton Woods in the 1970s. He doesn't effectively make the point that Keynesianism collapsed at the same time though. He has far too much to say about Nixon and far too little to say about Lyndon Johnson. The story of Johnson physically assaulting a fed chairman would have made an effective point. He also doesn't make the point that US policy from the end of Bretton Woods to today has been to use devaluation to create economic growth in the US at the expense of the rest of the world.

The final point the author doesn't quite make is that system has been turned inside out since the 1930s. Today the private economy operates on a sort-of gold standard through currency trading, the gold market and derivatives. Governments have been boxed in to a point where they only often control their unreal internal economics of budgets and debts. The role of governments has been gradually reduced from a leading one to one where their only role is to create giant pools of safe debt that the private market is unable to create.

In summary, I found the book an interesting read. But I didn't find many of the author's arguments interesting or often complete. The differences between the Keynes plan and the White plan are not at all as significant as the author would make them. There was, in fact, no battle of Bretton Woods. It was closer to a surrender ceremony.

The point I think that needs to be made is that all these ideas are now failed ideas and have little useful to tell us about the crisis of today. Gold Standards don't work because tying monetary growth to mining activity makes no sense as a basis for international settlement. A single-currency standard doesn't work because the contradictions between national policy and reserve currency policy cannot be reconciled within any government. The "basket" of currencies approach will never work because everyone wants to hold "good" money and nobody wants to hold "bad" money. As well, the Keynesian idea that governments can avoid economic pain through economic controls or create growth through government spending has been discredited.

My opinion is that we are in many ways back at 1919 again. There are mountains of bad debt in the world that need to be cleared to create growth and there are currency surpluses that need to be given up. In the course of clearing that debt, there also needs to be painful reform of government policy. But the status quo seems more likely.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Where's the Money? 24. Februar 2013
Von Christian Schlect - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
A great book on the formation of our international economic system, with proper attention given to the bureaucratic experts, in-fighters, and wizards who gave it life.

For me, the name "Bretton Woods" has been just a short-hand reference to the conference that created the various international financial bodies (mainly the IMF and World Bank) at the end of World War II. Beyond this I knew little. I now have a much better understanding of the actual event held in New Hampshire and the current meaning of this pivotal moment of diplomatic history.

Mr. Steil brings to life the policymakers who argued over perplexing issues, many that still remain with us today: John Maynard Keynes, the English economic superstar, and Harry Dexter White, the America with Soviet sympathies, being two of the more prominent players in this drama.

Lend-lease, how to treat post-war Germany, the implosion of the British Empire, Soviet espionage, the changing status of the U.S. dollar, the lingering role of gold, the eventual rise of China, the Euro, all, and more, are touched upon here in clear, careful explanatory prose.

This book will win prizes.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Outstanding 13. März 2013
Von B. Sherman - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
The author manages to bring an amazingly contemporary and detailed account of the (mostly) forgotten conference, whose consequences and reverberations have determined to a significant degree the subsequent economic and imperial destiny of Great Britain, and that of the US. The main players i the drama are vividly portrayed, their motivations, personalities, lethal charisma and lack of it thereof - a book well written for the interested layman as much as the academic reader. I hope Mr Steil has collected enough unanalyzed material for a follow up on the life and what if scenario had Harry Dexter White lived longer to climb higher up the ladder of power after the sack of Secretary Morgenthau by President Truman.
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