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IR - One Definition A Day: Bretton Woods System

IR - One Definition A Day : Bretton Woods

A series of multilateral agreements on international economic relations were reached at Bretton Woods (BW/US) in July 1944 under the aegis of the embryo UN. Forty-four states agreed to a Final Act establishing an IMF and an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The proposals that were discussed at BW were the outcome of a series of bilateral nogotiations conducted between the US and the UK over the previous two years. The IBRD was described by the London Economist in 1945 as a 'much simpler project which has attracted neither much discussion nor much hostility...'. 

The IMF, on the other hand, was from its inception more controversial. The two states concerned with these preliminaries, the US the UK had ratehr divergent ideas about the future monetary regime. These differences were made public in, respectively, the White Plan, originating in the US Treasury, and the Keynes Plan, originating in the UK Treasury. White envisaged a Stabilisation Fund made up entirely of contributions from member states. Keynes envisaged a Clearing Union based on the overdraft principle and employing a new unit of account - the 'bancor'. Whereas the total available liquidity remained constant under White - so that drawing rights equalled liabilities - in the Keynes scheme additional liquidity could be pumped into the system to enable debtor states to overdraw. Conversely, creditor states would provide the main collateral in this arrangement.

The Anglo-American differences over the putative IMF are sometimes peresented as the conservative versus the radical views of the future. It should be noted, however, that both schemes tended to reflect the perceived national interests of the parties advocating them. In the event, the US bargaining position was more credible and the Bretton Woods conference produced a fund which bore a close family resemblance to the White Plan.

The term 'Bretton Woods system' is often used to refer to these two institutions and to the regimes established. Both have changed considerably since their inception. Accordingly, the reference to 'Bretton Woods' is of historical, rather than contemporary, validity.

(Source: wikipedia)

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