Bretton Woods 75: Money and Economic Systems for a New Era
Monday, August 5, 2019TOPICS: Faculty and Staff
begin quote As we reflect on our current economic and financial systems and try to shape what’s to come, it is necessary to keep in mind that neither the prosperity nor the peace was equivalent for all citizens of the world.
In July, I participated in a gathering of 200 people at the legendary Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire to reflect on the legacy of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference. The original Bretton Woods Conference brought together 730 delegates from 44 allied countries to discuss a new post-war economic and financial system. It convened only a few weeks after D-Day, in a world of unimaginable devastation and violence that had left millions of people dead and millions more injured and displaced. Delegates negotiated agreements on monetary policy and institutional arrangements in hopes of shaping a global dynamic that would sustain greater peace.
Regardless of how we assess the legacy of those agreements, envisioning a new economic system to better serve the times was no small feat. While far from perfect, the monetary policies and institutional architecture for global commerce and governance have supported incredible increases in prosperity and progress worldwide. All kinds of trade and economic opportunities have flourished since then. To date, we have avoided World War III.
However, as we reflect on our current economic and financial systems and try to shape what’s to come, it is necessary to keep in mind that neither the prosperity nor the peace was equivalent for all citizens of the world then or today. The anniversary of the original agreements is a good time to contemplate how better, more just and sustainable structures can be created.
Unlike the original all-male Bretton Woods, this gathering was organized by young women, who invited a broad swath of thinkers representing diverse age groups and socio-cultural backgrounds including economists, community activists, and academics. The Bretton Woods 75 Conference explored ideas and had discussions around designing a more inclusive future economic and social order. We sought to identify policies and institutions that would enhance freedom and justice worldwide. One goal of Bretton Woods 75 was to expand connectivity among people in different fields and foster new collaborations to address the challenges of our time, from climate change to growing numbers of refugees.
The mandate of the three-day event was much more diverse than the delegates were assigned by the allied countries in 1944. There was no shortage of new ideas and concepts to consider.
One major area of discussion focused on new forms of money including cryptocurrencies, with some arguing this new “tool” of non-state backed money can enhance global trust, community cooperation and happiness. Bitcoin, Litecoin, Peercoin, among many other cryptocurrencies, question the monopoly of the nation-state to issue money. Important questions remain to be answered, including issues of cryptocurrency’s potential for enhancing illegal businesses or supporting autocratic regimes. At the grassroots level, there are interesting examples of non-state backed money supporting local economies. A case in point is the city of Bristol which created a city-wide local currency to be used in local business as well as to pay taxes and transportation, strengthening local success based on commitment and spirit. It is easy to be inspired by such initiatives, inviting support for such alternative ways of storing value as well as our collective brain power to address challenges of liquidity and conversion.
Other attendees focused on the environment, reparations, peacebuilding, and social entrepreneurship as important aspects of our global future. There was even a guest astronomer among us to point out the stars in the stellar system, perhaps to remind us to build new systems with the entire universe at heart. There was incredible live music, food, wine and storytelling because a more peaceful and just world order is not simply a matter of technocracy. We have to keep in mind what Dr. Douglas Rushkoff, Professor of Media, calls “Team Human.” We must consider seriously the diversity of needs of the seven and a half billion that inhabit our world.
Bretton Woods 75 is another signal it is time to rethink how money works as technology, global connectivity and increased educational levels open new opportunities.