International Money: Interview with Professor Richard N. Cooper

Professor Richard N. Cooper – advisor to many U.S. Presidents on international monetary affairs – was recently interviewed by the Center for Financial Stability on his decades of experience at the center of international monetary policy.

Highlights include:

  • Evolution of the international monetary system,
  • Insights into Nixon Shock (cessation of the gold standard),
  • System of floating exchange rates,
  • Recent revelations regarding the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference,
  • China and measures to move forward,
  • Proposals for the future.

We thank Kurt Schuler and Robert Yee for such a wonderfully insightful exchange and Richard Cooper – Maurits C. Boas Professor of International Economics at Harvard and formerly Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

To view the full interview:
http://centerforfinancialstability.org/research/Cooper_Yee_0916.pdf

Hanke on IMF pressure from politicians…

The FT published my letter “Not the first time IMF has succumbed to pressure from politicians.”

A recent FT editorial as well as story indicated that the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office found that the “IMF repeatedly succumbed to political pressure from European governments during the eurozone debt crisis”.

This is not the first and only case in which the International Monetary Fund has been manipulated by politicians, and it certainly is far from the worst.

The full letter is available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/da5c9d96-559d-11e6-9664-e0bdc13c3bef.html?siteedition=intl#axzz4GObByfbd

Future and History of Global Capital Markets

CFS partner, Jack Malvey from BNY Mellon, created a wonderful guide to financial market history and factors driving change into the 21st Century.

We are grateful to Jack for allowing us to share his presentation with CFS friends.

Although we rarely distribute outside research, today, markets confront challenges of epic proportion. Simply put, a glance back at the last thirty years is insufficient.

Analytics, data, and an appreciation of history are in our DNA. Hence, CFS hosted “Bretton Woods: The Founders and the Future” with long-term takeaways for markets and economies. Similarly, Senior Fellow Kurt Schuler’s Historical Financial Statistics (HFS) database – with contributions from over 80 academics – is a treasure trove of information and a popular part of our website.

Most importantly, thanks again to Jack for sharing his outstanding work integrating the past with the future. It is no wonder that a recent Bloomberg story referenced him as “one of the most-respected figures in the bond market.”

Given the enormous scope of coverage, Jack would be grateful for any thoughtful commentary.

The full presentation is:
www.CenterforFinancialStability.org/research/Global_Capital_Market_History.pdf

Australia at Bretton Woods

Selwyn Cornish and I have a CFS working paper out on “Australia’s Full Employment Proposals at Bretton Woods: A Road Only Partly Taken.”

At the Bretton Woods conference, Australia proposed that full employment be a primary goal of international economic cooperation. Australia’s ideas were connected with its historical experience: three enormous financial and economic shocks in the two generations before Bretton Woods that disrupted employment.

The United States in particular opposed Australia’s proposals. They did receive a hearing after Bretton Woods, but never became part of the fabric of international economic cooperation. Happily for Australia, since Bretton Woods it has avoided shocks of the magnitude it experienced in the two generations before. Australia’s proposals remain of interest, though, both because many countries are still far from full employment and because the Bretton Woods institutions have become involved in labor market reforms as part of broader structural economic reforms in member countries.

The paper takes advantage of the knowledge of Australian archives that Selwyn Cornish has built up over the course of his career, which includes a longtime position as the official historian of the Reserve Bank of Australia. I presented the paper at a conference about Bretton Woods held at Yale University in November. A revised version will likely appear in a volume springing from the conference, to be published by Yale University Press. Selwyn and I welcome comments, which we will consider for incorporation into the revised version.

The Money Makers

Eric Rauchway’s new book The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace will interest most of you who read this blog. The economic parallels between the 1930s and recent years are more instructive than we may care to admit.

Eric Rauchway is a professor of history at the University of California-Davis. He spoke at the CFS conference at Bretton Woods last year, giving a foretaste of some of the material in the book. The subtitle gives a pretty complete idea of what the book is about. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is first in the subtitle as he is dominant in the book. Rauchway is determined to rescue FDR’s reputation from former advisers who had their own agenda to promote when they wrote, years later, that FDR was a dilettante with no real understanding of monetary policy. Rauchway argues that FDR had coherent ideas and that his policy on the gold standard through the whole of his administration was well considered both in its economics and its politics. Rauchway points out that FDR made some formal study of economics as a student at Harvard; that well before his presidential bid he showed interest in monetary questions; and, perhaps most important of all, he was open to ideas and sources considered unorthodox, such as the Cornell University professor George Warren Pearson.

As one who is no expert on FDR but who has worked for two politicians, I have observed that politicians rarely have the time or inclination to become expert on the arcana of monetary theory and policy. However, the astute ones—and FDR was a superlatively astute politician—have an ability to rank issues, examine varying views on them more open-mindedly than many experts (because they are less attached to particular approaches), and gauge whether public opinion on them is ripe for change. FDR came into office facing economic catastrophe, and he found a way out that worked.

A generation later, Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz would argue that the Federal Reserve bore a large measure of blame for the Depression, and that different policy by the Fed would have avoided deflation and limited the downturn to being an ordinary recession. Over the course of another generation, other economists would come to accept their argument. In 1933, FDR did not have the luxury of waiting for those conclusions and he lacked control of the Fed. The gold policy was the one tool at his disposal. I think Rauchway exaggerates the depth of FDR’s monetary thought, but he is correct that FDR’s gold policy—which jolted the American economy back to life—showed a high level of strategic thinking. The advisers who later branded FDR a dilettante misunderstood that he was in reality an experimenter, willing to be unorthodox and eclectic because the times called for experimentation.

What FDR gave with one hand, though, he partly took away with the other. Many of the regulatory policies of the New Deal hampered recovery, working against the benefits of appropriately loose monetary policy. As with the responsibility of the Federal Reserve for creating or at least greatly aggravating the Depression, Rauchway glosses over the clumsiness of New Deal regulation and the harm it did.

The book really shines in its weaving of the interplay between monetary policy, wider economic policy, domestic politics, and geopolitics. The Depression was more than an economic calamity: it threatened to cast the world political order into the flames. FDR understood the dangers posed by aggressive dictatorships and the role that economic policy could play in helping contain them in peace and winning the fight against them in war. Rauchway assesses the interplay between the economic and political forces of the time more judiciously than any previous account I have read.

I will not discuss Keynes, who also appears in the book’s subtitle, because here both Rauchway and I have less to say that might be new to you, though it will be new to the average reader. Suffice it to say that, as with the material on Roosevelt, it ably assesses both the economics and the politics of the time.

Did I mention that Rauchway can really write? He has an ability to keep different narrative threads clear through the warp and woof of events. He also has a knack for crisp summary (example: in 1944 “The United Nations was still very much a notion; so too were many of the nations in it” under German or Japanese occupation.)

The book is pleasing to the eye and to the hand. I have only one complaint for the publisher: having met Eric Rauchway in person, I can attest that the jacket photo does not do him justice. Something to be corrected for the paperback edition, perhaps.

World Bank Archives Online

The World Bank has begun to digitize its archives and place them online. I have used the archives a couple of times, and though the staff have been helpful, the hours are limited, one must wait for materials to be delivered, and for people outside of Washington the trip is expensive and time-consuming. So, bravo! I expect little additional material of interest on the Bretton Woods conference to turn up, because of what is already in the IMF Archives. Eventually, though, there will be miles of files for scholars interested in studying how economic development and aid evolved after World War II.

State of the International Financial System: House Committee on Financial Services Hearing

The U.S. House Committee on Financial Services announced a full committee hearing titled “The Annual Testimony of the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of the International Financial System.” The hearing is scheduled for March 17, 2015.

It will be informative to see how Secretary Lew assesses backdoor currency wars (see pages 2, 9, and 10 of the New York Society of Security Analysts presentation).

The Morgenthau Diaries Are Online

Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was Secretary of the Treasury from 1934 to 1945, a period that of course included the 1944 Bretton Woods conference. Fortunately for historians, he was a compulsive chronicler. His collection of speeches, memos, transcripts of meetings, and other documents, termed the Morgenthau Diaries, runs to hundreds of volumes. They have been available for some years on microfilm, but at a price so high that few libraries have them. Now the diaries are are available for free online. They offer inside perspective on a tumultuous period of American and world history.

Morgenthau was the president of the Bretton Woods conference and the head of the U.S. delegation to the conference, and his diaries from that period (July 1-22, 1944) contain transcripts of many of the delegation’s meetings behind closed doors. The American delegates could be blunt in their private assessments, as these words from a July 1 meeting show:

MR. [Harry Dexter] WHITE: Those are the large countries. The smaller countries all want larger quotas. The most troublesome will be Australia, who is participating to an extent far beyond the proper role of a country of her size and importance. But they are going to insist on a larger quota and some other things that I suggested before.

Readers interested in Bretton Woods will find much to instruct and occasionally amuse them. Among other things, the diaries show clearly that Federal Reserve chairman Marriner Eccles, who is not recorded as having said a word in the conference sessions, was highly active behind the scenes.

At Bretton Woods the United States was at the zenith of its relative economic power, as the leading economy whose home territory was nearly untouched by the enemy. The attitude of the American delegation reflects its awareness of that fact. Reading the diaries, though, one must that remember that however fascinating they are, they are but a part of the story. What the Americans wanted was not always what transpired in conference, and their private scheming had counterparts in the private scheming of other delegations, which is less well recorded but which has recently received scrutiny from assiduous researchers.

(Hat tip to Eric Rauchway, who spoke at the 2014 CFS Bretton Woods conference.)

The Economist on “The 70-Year Itch”

In The Economist this week, there is a terrific article The Bretton Woods agreements: The 70-year itch.  Highlights include:

– America learned the benefits of economic co-operation the hard way. Its failure to create institutions to help steer the world economy after the first world war exacerbated the Great Depression and paved the way for the next conflagration.

– Yet today’s pre-eminent powers seem to have forgotten this lesson.

– If John Maynard Keynes were alive, he would sigh not just at the risks in all this economic nationalism but also the huge missed opportunity. Perhaps it is time to send another group of dignitaries to New Hampshire.

The full article is at http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21606280-both-west-and-china-are-neglecting-institutions-help-keep-world-economy

The piece is similar to my Forbes column Lessons from the Summer of 1944.

The full column can be viewed at http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2014/06/06/lessons-from-the-summer-of-1944/

Review of Two New Books on Bretton Woods

(The following review, for the economic history site EH.net, is reprinted with their permission, and the copyright provisions specified there apply.)

Ed Conway, The Summit: The Biggest Battle of the Second World War, Fought Behind Closed Doors. London: Little, Brown, 2014. xxvi + 454 pp. £25 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-4055-2930-3.

and

Eric Helleiner, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods: International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014. xii + 304 pp. $40 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-8014-5275-8.

Two books have appeared just in time for the seventieth anniversary of the Bretton Woods conference. Edmund Conway’s The Summit is a popular account of the conference by a financial journalist, while Eric Helleiner’s Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods is a political scientist’s examination of a little explored angle of the conference: the role of what we now call emerging market countries.

Conway, economics editor of the British cable television channel Sky News, set out to write an overview incorporating material that has come to light since Armand van Dormael’s 1978 book Bretton Woods: Birth of a Monetary System. (Benn Steil’s The Battle of Bretton Woods [2013] is an interpretation of the conference according to a master theme rather than an overall account, as I will explain later.)[1] We now have additional reminiscences by delegates; declassified archival material such as the Venona files detailing Soviet espionage in the ranks of U.S. Treasury officials; and full transcripts of many committee meetings at the conference.

Conway writes in a lively style. (Example: “As far as [Keynes] was concerned, the [International Monetary] Fund should be regarded as a kind of economic health spa. There should be no stigma associated with going to it for help: all countries should be entitled — nay, encouraged — to do so at some point. For White, however, the Fund was Accident and Emergency — countries should only be wheeled in if close to complete economic collapse” p. 171.) In addition, he has done some original research that will ensure a niche for his book in the scholarly literature. For example, in the Russian archives he found a number of documents that illustrate Soviet perceptions of Bretton Woods. The Soviet Union was active and often obstreperous at the Bretton Woods conference. It signed the Bretton Woods agreements but later decided not to join the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), in part because it did not want to divulge the economic data required of IMF members.

Because the book is intended for readers who may know nothing of Bretton Woods, many of you reading this review can comfortably skip the early chapters, which provide background, and start with the British delegation’s ocean voyage to America. Conway vividly conveys the atmosphere both of the voyage and of the Atlantic City conference that preceded Bretton Woods and developed the drafts from which the Bretton Woods delegates worked.

At the heart of The Summit is of course the account of the Bretton Woods conference itself. (The title, by the way, is a triple reference to Bretton Woods as an important international gathering, a high point in economic diplomacy, and a location within sight of the highest peak in the northeastern United States.) Conway devotes a substantial chapter to each of the three weeks of the conference. He gives an overall idea of the course of negotiations and, again, of the atmosphere in which delegates worked, but omits minute details that are more appropriate to books aimed at narrower audiences.

The final chapters describe the later life of the Bretton Woods agreements, beginning with controversies on the way to their ratification in the United States and in Britain. In the United States some experts got worked up about the agreements, but as Conway relates, the public was apathetic; with World War II still raging, the subject was too abstruse to arouse passion. In Britain, the country’s largest newspaper fiercely criticized the agreements, but the enormous parliamentary majority of the new Labour Party government meant that it could pass into law anything it wanted.

Throughout the book Conway focuses on the personality traits of the players. Economists and political scientists often write as if impersonal interests dominate and personalities make little difference; journalists, diplomats, and historians know better. As a case in point, the turnover of lower-level officials after Harry Truman succeeded Franklin Roosevelt as president quickly led to changes in actual or prospective policies, including abandonment of the Morgenthau Plan to reduce Germany to an economic backwater after the war and the idea of locating the IMF and World Bank in New York rather than Washington. Conway’s book will not be, and is not intended to be, the authoritative academic account of Bretton Woods, but it is a useful addition to previous accounts.

Eric Helleiner, a professor of political science at the University of Waterloo (Canada), calls into question the prominent line of thinking about Bretton Woods that it was an American, and to a lesser extent a British, production, with other countries having little impact. Benn Steil is in this vein, interpreting Bretton Woods as a nearly unvarnished exercise in power politics. Steil focuses on the animosity of many American officials toward Britain and the ways in which they tried to use Bretton Woods and the Lend-Lease negotiations to diminish British postwar influence. Steil shares the view Keynes privately expressed, which likened the delegates from most other countries at Bretton Woods, particularly those from the poorer countries — what  we would now call emerging markets — as denizens of a “monkey house,” raucous and useless.

Helleiner’s library and archival research incorporate sources previously absent from English-language scholarship on Bretton Woods. His writing lacks Conway’s journalistic panache but conveys clearly ideas that other social scientists would have clotted with needless jargon. Helleiner finds antecedents to Bretton Woods, incidents at the conference, and events afterwards to indicate greater importance for the emerging markets than has hitherto been acknowledged.

The opening chapters focus on American attitudes toward emerging markets, documenting how Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and his Good Neighbor policy towards Latin America changed the approach of the U.S. government toward international financial issues. U.S. officials became more sympathetic to the concerns of emerging market officials on matters of exchange rate choice, exchange controls, commodity price stabilization, industrial protectionism, and, to a lesser extent, debt default. The remaining chapters discuss Bretton Woods as viewed from the perspective of Latin American, Asian, and Eastern European governments, with a sidebar on how British official attitudes about economic development did or did not fit into the picture.

Helleiner’s implicit claim is that by the time of Bretton Woods, the ideology of the Roosevelt administration, and the experience of the 1930s, made the U.S. government more comfortable with “developmentalist” ideas (my term, not Helleiner’s) than at any time before and possibly since. Helleiner discusses the abortive Inter-American Bank as a dry run for the IMF and especially the World Bank. It was to have been a government-owned multilateral financial institution, with weighted voting, lending both to ease short-term balance of payments problems and to promote long-term economic development. The United States was to have provided the largest share of funds for it, but the U.S. Congress failed to approve the charter, so the project died. An echo of it exists in the Inter-American Development Bank, established in 1959.

Two other important examples of changing U.S. official attitudes toward Latin America were the U.S. government advisory monetary missions to Cuba in 1941-42 and Paraguay in 1943-44. They were much friendlier to developmentalist ideas than the semiofficial U.S. monetary doctor Edwin Kemmerer had been when he had advised many Latin American and other countries in the 1920s. Latin American governments responded favorably to what they saw as greater recognition by the United States of their sovereign dignity. The motives of the United States were not purely disinterested: it wanted to keep Latin America out of the Nazi orbit. U.S. officials were solicitous about involving their Latin American counterparts in their international plans from an early stage, choosing the January 1942 Rio de Janeiro Conference to announce their interest in planning for the postwar financial order.

In return, Latin American governments were generally supportive of the U.S. plans, though they proposed and received some changes to support their interests. At Bretton Woods, they and the other emerging markets secured agreement that the World Bank would focus equally on reconstruction and development, as opposed to its original stronger focus on reconstruction. With regard to the International Monetary Fund agreement, Latin American countries got a provision expected to benefit commodity exporters, instructing the Fund to take into consideration exceptional requirements of borrowing countries. The IMF agreement also was tolerant of the multiple exchange rates that existed in a number of Latin American countries at the time.

(Here I must mention a misconception that pops up in discussions of Latin American countries at Bretton Woods. They were the largest regional bloc, but their influence was less than their numbers. The conference proceeded mostly by consensus, avoiding formal votes on contested issues where possible, because a contested agreement rammed through by majority vote would have jeopardized the support of the United States, the major source of funds. The United States, in turn, could not simply dictate terms because the IMF and World Bank would have lacked legitimacy had they been viewed as little more than fronts for U.S. policies.)

East Asia was represented at Bretton Woods only by China and by the Philippines, the latter still an American colony but scheduled to become independent soon. Helleiner calls attention to Sun Yat-Sen’s book International Development of China, a pioneering effort in what later came to be called development economics. It had a strong influence on subsequent Chinese thinking about economic development and some influence abroad. Before Bretton Woods, China submitted its own plan for the IMF, alongside the British, American, Canadian, and French plans. It has been neglected by most historical accounts, including the IMF’s official history.[2] At Bretton Woods, China got a clause inserted into the World Bank agreement allowing that in special circumstances, the Bank could make loans not tied to specific projects, hence promoting overall development goals.

India’s delegation at Bretton Woods, a mixture of Britons and Indians, effectively represented India’s particular interests even though India was still a British colony. The overall attitude of British officials toward developmentalist ideas was lukewarm, a result in part of Britain’s fragile war finances and the knowledge that resources Britain could command through its empire would be greatly reduced if the colonies were to have more local control of their economic policies. Keynes was more developmentalist than the British consensus. He had, for instance, suggested as early as 1913 that India should have a state-owned central bank with a development focus, and he was critical of the idea, eventually adopted, to establish a currency board in Burma after it separated monetarily from India following World War II.[3]

Delegates from Eastern Europe were, naturally, keenly interested in the IBRD’s reconstruction role, but the Polish delegation appreciated the case for development lending given that Eastern Europe other than Czechoslovakia could be seen as a backward region.

In the final chapter, Helleiner traces the subsequent fate of developmentalist ideas at the IMF and IBRD. The Cold War had the effect that what came to be called the Third World was, as its name implied, low in international status. Today, though, with the Cold War past and emerging markets accounting for roughly half of world output, “echoes of the Bretton Woods development discussions have begun to be heard once again” (p. 276).

Notes:
1. Van Dormael is a retired businessman turned amateur historian, Conway is a journalist, Steil is an economist, and Eric Helleiner is a political scientist. Professional historians are notable by their absence from deep study of Bretton Woods, although Eric Rauchway, a professor at the University of California-Davis, has a forthcoming account.

2. J. Keith Horsefield, The International Monetary Fund 1945-1965: Twenty Years of International Monetary Cooperation, 3 volumes (Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 1969).

3. The countries whose monetary reforms Helleiner discusses — Paraguay, Cuba, Burma, Ethiopia — have not been known for long-term monetary stability under the central banks that all eventually established. Might they in fact have been better off with more rigid monetary authorities?

Kurt Schuler, an economist, is Senior Fellow in Financial History at the Center for Financial Stability in New York. He is the editor, with Andrew Rosenberg, of The Bretton Woods Transcripts (2012).