Picture the world at war in 1944. All of Europe, except for Switzerland, is pounding its infrastructure, manufacturing base and population into rubble and death. Asia is locked into a monumental struggle which is destroying Japan, China, and the Pacific Rim countries. North Africa, the Baltic's, and the Mediterranean countries are clutched in a life and death struggle in the fight to throw off the yoke of occupation. A world gone mad! Economic destruction, human misery and dislocation exists on a scale never before experienced in human history. What went wrong? How could the world rebuild and recover from such devastation? How could another war be avoided?
KEYNES, HARRY WHITE, AND BRETTON WOODS
This was the world as it existed in July 1944 when a relatively small group of 130 of the western worlds most accomplished economic, social and political minds met in upstate New Hampshire at a small vacation town called Bretton Woods. John Maynard Keynes, the man who had predicted the current catastrophe in his book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, written in 1920, was about to become the principal architect of the post-World War II reconstruction, Keynes presented a rather radical plan to rebuild the worlds economy, and hopefully avoid a third world war. This time the world listened, for Keynes and his supporters were the only ones who had a plan that in any way seemed grand enough in foresight and scope to have a chance at being successful. Yet Keynes had to fight hard to convince those rooted in conventional economic theories and partisan political doctrines to adopt his proposals. In the end, Keynes was able to sell about two-thirds of his proposals through sheer force of will and the support of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, Harry Dexter White.
At the heart of Keynes proposals were two basic principals: first the Allies must rebuild the Axis Countries, not exploit them as had been done after WW 1; second, a new International monetary system must be established, headed by a strong International banking system and a common world currency not tied to a gold standard.
Keynes went on to reason that Europe and Asia were in complete economic devastation with their means of production seriously crippled, their trade economies destroyed and their treasuries in deep dept. If the world economy was to emerge from its current state, it obviously needed to expand. This expansion would be limited if paper currency were still anchored to gold.
The United States, Canada, Switzerland and Australia were the only industrialized western countries to have their economies, banking systems and treasuries intact and fully operational. The enormous issue at the Bretton Woods Convention in 1944 was how to completely rebuild the European and Asian economies on a sufficiently solid basis to foster the establishment of stable, prosperous pro-democratic governments.
At the time, the majority of the world's gold supply, hence its wealth, was concentrated in the hands of the United States, Switzerland and Canada. A system had to be established to democratize trade and wealth; and redistribute, or recycle, currency from strong trade surplus countries back into countries with weak or negative trade surpluses. Otherwise, the majority of the world's wealth would remain concentrated in the hands of a few nations while the rest of the world would remain in poverty.
Keynes and White proposed that the United States supported by Canada and Switzerland would become the banker to the world, and the U.S. Dollar would replace the pound sterling as the medium of International trade. He also suggested that the dollar's value be tied to the good faith and credit of the U.S. Government not to gold or silver, as had traditionally been the support for a nation's currency. Keynes concept of how to accomplish all of this was radical for its time, but was based upon the centuries old framework of import/export finance. This form of finance was used to support certain sectors of International commerce, which did not use gold as collateral, but rather their own good faith and credit, backed by letters of credit, avals, or guarantees.
Keynes reasoned that even if his plans to rebuild the world's economy were adopted at the Bretton Woods Convention, remaining on a gold standard would seriously restrict the flexibility of governments to increase the money supply. The rate of increase of currency would not be sufficient to insure the continued successful expansion of International commerce over the long term. This condition could lead to a severe economic crisis, which, in turn, could even lead to another world war. However, the economic ministers and politicians present at the convention feared loss of control over their own national economies, as well as, run-away inflation, unless a "hard-currency" standard were adopted.
The Convention accepted Keynes' basic economic plan, but opted for a gold-backed currency as a standard of exchange. The "official" price of gold was set at its pre-WW II level of $ 35.00 per ounce One U.S. Dollar would purchase 1/35 an ounce of gold. The U.S. dollar would become the standard world currency, and the value of all other currencies in the western. non-communist world would be tied to the U.S. dollar as the medium of exchange.
MARSHALL PLAN, IMF, WORLD BANK,
AND THE BANK OF International SETTLEMENTS
The Bretton Woods Convention produced the Marshall Plan, the Bank for Reconstruction and Development known as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Bank of International Settlements (BIS). These four would re-establish and revitalize the economies of the western nations. The World Bank would borrow from rich nations and lend to poorer nations. The IMF working closely with the World Bank, with a pool of funds, controlled by a board of governors. would initiate currency adjustments and maintain the exchange rates among national currencies within defined limits. The Bank of International Settlements would then function as a "central bank" to the world.
The International Monetary Fund was to be a lender to the central bank of countries, which were experiencing a deficit in the balance of payments. By lending money to that country's central bank, the IMF provided currency, allowing the underdeveloped country to continue in business, building up its export base until it achieved a positive balance of payments. Then, that nation's central bank could repay the money borrowed from the IMF, with a small