Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Jotwell posting on Benn Steil's The Battle of Bretton Woods

A few months ago, I wrote a short piece for Jotwell, the "Journal of Things That We Like (Lots)."  I was supposed to write something about a recent tax book or article that I had enjoyed, but I decided to interpret my mandate broadly and write about a book that's more in the realm of economic and diplomatic history, finance, trade, and monetary policy - Benn Steil's "The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order."

My duly laudatory review (reflecting how much I enjoyed the book) has just come out, and you can read it here.

Some have interpreted Steil's book as pursuing an ideological agenda with which I happen to disagree, such as by trashing Keynes and asserting that Harry Dexter White, a high Treasury official and the chief U.S. negotiator at Bretton Woods, as well as a Soviet spy, "caused U.S. intervention in World War II," and indeed did so as a Soviet tool.  Whether or not that's a fair reading of the book, I don't think it's a necessary one.  And while Steil's apparent hostility to Keynesianism, on grounds that I disagree with, may raise questions about whether his historical account is balanced (I don't have enough first-hand knowledge of the area to judge this), I would still conclude that, for the lay reader (such as myself in this setting), all that this calls for is a due-caution warning.

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