The multiple contexts of Bretton woods

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This paper examines why so much debate about the structure of the international economy revolves around a conference held at Bretton Woods in July 1944 which was not immediately conspicuously successful. There was a unique confluence of contemporary contexts-in terms of trade policy, stabilization policy, and policies with regard to capital movements-that meant that prevailing ideas (especially the ideas of John Maynard Keynes) and the interests of the United States coincided. It was fundamentally a victory of the United States, but dressed up as benign multilateralism. A similarly unique combination of circumstances surrounded European efforts in the 1970s and was later to create, through the European Monetary System, a scaled-down version of Bretton Woods. The myth of Bretton Woods was created by a powerful retrospective interpretation or retrospective context that lent a golden halo to the whole exercise. In that sense our interpretation of a very specific historical event is inseparably intertwined with views of what happened after as well as before that event.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-430
Number of pages20
JournalOxford Review of Economic Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Bretton Woods
  • Capital movements
  • European Monetary System
  • Imbalances
  • Inconsistent trinity
  • International cooperation
  • International economic order


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