Sunday, December 13, 2015
My Reading List 2 - The Battle of Bretton Woods
I am keeping my reading pledge of completing a book a week. This week, I completed Benn Steils The Battle of Bretton Woods, a fascinating saga of the emergence of the Bretton Woods system, with all the key actors, politics, achievements and disappointments. Not an easy read, it was monetary economics side by side with personal drama and high politics of International relations, it was nevertheless worthwhile the effort.
Aptly titled, the Battle captures the competition between Britain, embroiled in war, and the United States, for global dominance in the post-war world. The story, at the same time, is also of the competition between the old and the new world, that of waspish brilliance of Lord Keynes pitted against the bureaucratic single-mindedness of Harry Dexter White, the clash between imperial hangovers and commercial brutality. Lurking behind the scenes, adequately represented in the story, is the Soviet mechanisation, manipulating the world affairs through plain bribery and ideological appeals, fascinating in the details such as leading the Japanese to Pearl Harbour.
Indeed, we still live in the shadows of the Bretton Woods system. Its founding assumptions have been discredited and the world has changed beyond recognition, but the institutions are still alive and the underlying tension between multilateralism and nationalism, and the idea of United States as the sole keeper of a world system, are still valid. In the closing chapter of the book, there is an insightful commentary about how the current world system reflect some of the realities that the makers of Bretton Woods grappled with, and it makes compelling reading.
Couple of final points. Last week, as I completed The Shifts and The Shocks, I was commenting on the role of Creditor Nations in creating an economic crisis. This story of Bretton Woods reads like the backstory in that regard, with Keynes worrying about the role of excessive surplus and the Americans effectively blocking his efforts, because they were, then, the biggest creditor nation in the world.
And, finally, given my background, I could not help but think about how all this affected India and its independence. The American hardball in dismantling the British Imperial System is what the new Monetary system was mostly about. This clearly forced Britain to withdraw from India and all other colonies in due course, rendering the imperial model obsolete. All the rhetoric of freedom, democracy and justice that we have become used to, look like cold economic considerations from this angle. Which is what it is, and will be. Books such as this are important reminders of what really matters.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the...
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are ...
Earlier, I claimed Ed-Tech is over-rated: It promises too much and delivers too little. Worse, the noise of EdTech obscures Education Inno...
It is easy to overestimate the potential impact of urban development initiatives, public or private. Because as high level concepts, we de...
Don't be perplexed. I know you may be wondering how on earth can someone love bureaucracy, which stands for all the bad things - slown...
I hope some people will agree with me if I say EdTech is over-rated. It's a nifty term, much broader than the older, nerdy, E-Learning...
Kolkata needs a fresh start. One of the first mega-cities in Asia, and $150 Billion economy, has fallen from grace, somewhat. It is n...
It may seem a strange question, but this is one of the key debates in Education: Should Education be about acquiring knowledge or developi...
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today –...
The idea came to me from various conversations in China and India: That teacher training in Higher Education is an urgent need and a signi...
How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.