OT: The Summit: Ed Conway

Posted: January 11, 2016 in Off Topic, Uncategorized

The SummitFrom the back cover: The idea of world leaders gathering in the midst of economic crisis has become all too familiar. But the meeting at Bretton Woods in 1944 was the only time countries from around the world have agreed to overhaul the structure of the international monetary system. And, what’s more they were successful-it was the closest to perfection the world’s economy has ever been. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished accounts, diaries and oral histories, this gripping book describes the conference in stunning colour and clarity.

Author Ed Conway is the economics editor of Sky News, and was previously economics editor of the Daily Telegraph. He has written a fine book that is in fact more than an account of the Bretton Woods Conference, it is an economic history of Europe between the end of the Great War to our current situation. I did not understand most of the economics in the book as I am a believer in the simple Wilkins Micawber school of fiscal responsibility. 

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

I sometimes think that many British Chancellors of the Exchequer hope that David Copperfield, the magician, will conjure some money for them rather than obeying Dicken’s mantra. 

The history and economics are interesting, but it is the larger than life characters in the book that make this book so gripping. The two dominant economists at Bretton Woods were the British John Maynard Keynes and the American Harry Dexter White. Two very different people Keynes, from an early age outshone his intellectual parents, father a Cambridge lecturer, mother a social reformer and politician, was educated at Eton and Cambridge. A member of the Bloomsbury set he was a conscientious objector. White, a First Lieutenant during the war, was the son of a Boston Hardware merchant, who had changed his name from Weit, after arriving in America from Lithuania. It is the contrast in backgrounds between the main protagonists that is part of the fascination of the story of Bretton Woods.

The book is full of historical vignettes about the period and the characters, some not flattering to the Bloomsbury set as they partied while men died in the trenches, and some vital to understand the very different standards of the period. The Bretton Woods conference was held in the slightly run down Mount Washington Hotel, one reason being that its owner Bostonian David Stoneman was Jewish. Both Henry Morgenthau Jr, US Treasury Secretary and Harry White, the US chief negotiator, had been turned away from other New England hotels in the past because they were Jewish. 

But some things never change:

Among the latter category was the Greek delegate Varvaressos, who seemed, to judge from his interjections, not to have absorbed the fact that the Fund was to be used only in emergencies rather than providing a steady stream of cash for his country……..He is a decorative creature and an entertaining companion, but I am convinced that, despite the high esteem in which he is held by the Treasury, he is fundamentally a bit of a fraud.

And in recent times we have seen a leftist finance minister with a millionaire lifestyle represent Greece, and achieve more self publicity than concrete help for the Greek people, who I might say deserved far better.  

We shouldn’t be too hard on any of the people of that time after all only twenty one years after the end of the Great War the world had been plunged into another catastrophe of mind blowing proportions.

one in five of the entire Polish population was killed; one in eleven of the Russian population; one in fourteen Greeks; one in fifteen Germans; one in seventy-seven French; one in 125 Britons. In those countries occupied by the Nazis, the fatalities were disproportionately among the educated population.

The Summit was one of the best non fiction books I have read for some time, highly recommended.  


  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    It sounds fascinating, Norman. And it sounds as though it’s a discussion of history as well as of the economic issues at hand. Fascinating!

  2. Norman Price says:

    I read it right through at 4 sittings after Christmas, so to keep me away from crime fiction it had to be good.

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