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Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order by Eric Helleiner

Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order


Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order by Eric Helleiner

Eric Helleiner's new book provides a powerful corrective to conventional accounts of the negotiations at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944. These negotiations resulted in the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank-the key international financial institutions of the postwar global economic order. Critics of Bretton Woods have argued that its architects devoted little attention to international development issues or the concerns of poorer countries. On the basis of extensive historical research and access to new archival sources, Helleiner challenges these assumptions, providing a major reinterpretation that will interest all those concerned with the politics and history of the global economy, North-South relations, and international development.The Bretton Woods architects-who included many officials and analysts from poorer regions of the world-discussed innovative proposals that anticipated more contemporary debates about how to reconcile the existing liberal global economic order with the development aspirations of emerging powers such as India, China, and Brazil. Alongside the much-studied Anglo-American relationship was an overlooked but pioneering North-South dialogue. Helleiner's unconventional history brings to light not only these forgotten foundations of the Bretton Woods system but also their subsequent neglect after World War II.


The story Helleiner tells is based upon exhaustive archival research and an intimate knowledge of the secondary literature. The argument is persuasive; and it is expressed in a clear and unpretentious manner, a genuine bonus for the reader. Both the author and Cornell University Press have produced a book of which they can be justly proud. It deserves the attention of economists and historians with an interest in the origins of development economics and the evolution of the international monetary system.

--Selwyn Cornish, Australian National University Economic Record

The central argument of Eric Helleiner's important and original new book is that economic development was a core goal of the Bretton Woods architects.... He marshals impressive new evidence to show that... U.S. policy makers focused as much--or more--on the development needs and aspirations of poorer countries as on the future reconstruction requirements of war-torn Europe and Asia.... The tragedy, says Helleiner, is that despite initial good intentions, the Bretton Woods system ultimately failed to live up to its developmental promise. Post-war idealism was soon eclipsed by Cold War realities, leaving the IMF and the World Bank as tools, not of global development, but of western anti-communist crusaders and free market ideologues.

--John Hancock Literary Review of Canada

The author has done a lot of arduous work in archives, and has come up with highly interesting, even provocative results.... [T]his book is highly recommended reading, of interest not only to people working on Bretton Woods and its two institutions, but also to people doing research on the dogmengeschichte of development.

--Kunibert Raffer Zagreb International Review of Economics & Business

Somewhat surprising given his background in Political Science, Helleiner has eschewed grand theorising in favour of arduous archival research. But this certainly works to his advantage: He is neither forced to plaster historical material with concepts nor is he running the risk of selecting facts according to the demands of a specific theoretical paradigm.... That it will attract a huge readership is beyond doubt. It is certain to become a landmark study for all those interested in Economic History, Development Studies and Global Political Economy, and aside from academia, all those who want to understand the shoals of international economic cooperation.

--Alexander Brand Journal of International Development

Helleiner's library and archival research incorporate sources previously absent from English-language scholarship on Bretton Woods. His writing... 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.

--Kurt Schuler EH.Net

Helleiner's book is an erudite study of US financial diplomacy during the Roosevelt administration. To trace back the origins of state-led economic development to White and the 1930s, Helleiner covered a vast amount of secondary and archival sources. He thereby ends up doing much more than he set out to do.... His book is in fact a tour de force of US financial diplomacy before and during the Second World War, set in the larger context of global relations, and it is essential reading for scholars interested in the history of international monetary affairs.

--Nathan Marcus The Economic History Review

Helleiner drew heavily ondetailed primary material for his research and presentswith his beautifully written book a completely new reading of the Bretton Woods negotiations.

--Tobias Leeg Political Studies Review

Eric Helleiner's Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods offers an original interpretation of the birth of the postwar order. Helleiner builds on previous scholarship and rejects accounts based on individuals (Keynes, White), though he himself makes intelligent use of biographical information.... This book is not just of historical interest. It also points to a way to reconcile the liberal international order with the development aspirations of emerging countries.

--Giovanni Farese International Affairs

By tracing back the origins of the World Bank and the IMF to the Latin American push for creating an Inter-American Bank and US initiatives around the Good Neighbor financial partnership, especially the financial advisory mission to Cuba in 1941-2, the author succeeds in demonstrating that the development of poor countries was indeed a key issue for the founders of the post-war financial institutions. Helleiner drew heavily on detailed primary material for his research and presents with his beautifully written book a completely new reading of the Bretton Woods negotiations.

--Tobias Leeg Political Studies Review

Forgotten Foundations is classic interdisciplinary history, drawing on literatures from political science and economics as well as primary sources.... Helleiner has made an important contribution that will permanently re-frame how scholars conceptualize Bretton Woods.

--Barry Eichengreen Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Eric Helleiner's informed rereading of Bretton Woods is very relevant to current debates about global development after the recent financial crisis. Indeed, this revisionist history constitutes something of an introduction to development economics, retracing their roots in the global South as well as North, along with pre-communist Eastern Europe. It contrasts the distinctive regional orientations of major governments--including the United States and the UK--as they anticipated very divergent positions in the postwar economy. This book anticipates the BRICs as emerging challenges to the global political economy, even as their roots pre-date contemporary globalizations: farsighted indeed.

--Timothy M. Shaw, University of Massachusetts Boston, coeditor of The Diplomacies of Small States: Between Vulnerability and Resilience In this remarkable book, Helleiner challenges the long held view that the Bretton Woods agreements were a product of Anglo-American negotiations, in which development issues received little attention and southern voices were largely absent. The book offers a very different interpretation... and shows how international support for the economic development of southern countries, particularly Latin American, was widely discussed during the negotiations.... Helleiner further suggests that this forgotten history and goals of the Bretton Woods may continue to generate some inspiration for policy makers in their efforts to recover from the current global economic downturn. Highly recommended.

In a masterly historical analysis based on extensive archival research, Helleiner shows that poorer nations were anything but voiceless. Their delegates played an active role in shaping the discussions, and their development aspirations were by no means ignored. In previous works on topics as varied as the postwar revival of global finance and the evolution of money, Helleiner has already established himself as an outstanding historian of the international political economy. In this book, once again, he has done an important service in correcting the historical record. The book is organized in eight chapters--four on steps leading up to the 1944 conference and four on the conference itself, all written in the author's usual lucid manner.

About the Author

Eric Helleiner is Professor and Faculty of Arts Chair in International Political Economy, Department of Political Science and Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo. He is the author of Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods: International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order, States and the Reemergence of Global Finance: From Bretton Woods to the 1990s,and The Making of National Money: Territorial Currencies in Historical Perspective and coeditor of The Great Wall of Money: Power and Politics in China's International Monetary Relations, all from Cornell.

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Book Info

Publication date

28th January 2016


Eric Helleiner

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Cornell University Press


320 pages


Political economy



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