Saturday, June 7, 2014

Eric Helleiner's "Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods"

Eric Helleiner is Professor and Faculty of Arts Chair in International Political Economy, Department of Political Science and Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods: International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order, and reported the following:
I certainly didn’t plan this outcome, but I’m delighted to report that page 99 of my book is a vitally important one. Let me explain.

Any student taking an introductory course in economics or world politics learns about the famous 1944 Bretton Woods conference. The meeting created new rules for the postwar world economy as well as institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund that remain at the center of global financial governance today.

Although forty four governments were represented, students are usually taught that the Bretton Woods negotiations were de facto a bilateral affair between US and British policymakers who largely ignored the concerns and voices of developing countries. My book shows how incorrect that conventional view is. (I have had to completely rewrite my own lecture notes in the process of researching this book).

Drawing on extensive new archival material, I show how US officials in particular saw the Bretton Woods negotiations as an opportunity to promote a new kind of global economic order that would be supportive of the development aspirations of poorer countries. Page 99 starts a chapter that demonstrates the strength of the American commitment to this innovative international development vision, a vision that had emerged initially out of extensive US consultations with Latin American officials even before the Bretton Woods negotiations began.

Subsequent chapters demonstrate that this vision was also strongly supported by delegations from poor regions of the world including not just Latin American countries but also those from China, India, and Eastern Europe. The Bretton Woods agreements, in other words, were a product of much more than just Anglo-American discussions. They emerged from a new kind of “North-South” dialogue between rich and poor countries, out of which the pioneering international development goals of the meeting were born.

The ambitious nature of Bretton Woods international development objectives did not survive the early Cold War years for some political reasons explained in the book. But I argue that these forgotten foundations of Bretton Woods remain highly relevant today when emerging powers such as China, India, and Brazil are seeking to reform the global economic order to better serve their development goals. The ideas of the Bretton Woods architects – who included many officials from these very countries - anticipated contemporary debates on this topic to a remarkable extent and they deserve renewed attention as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the famous 1944 meeting this year.
Learn more about Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue