Courtesy Reuters

After the World Economic Conference

SIX months ago I attempted to outline in these pages[i] the tasks lying ahead of the World Economic Conference. What, now, are the lessons which should be learned from the story of that Conference? And what should be done in the coming months regarding the problems with which it endeavored to deal? To attempt an answer to the first of these questions is obviously an easier task than to answer the second; for while economic conditions are changing with such bewildering rapidity it is a hazardous undertaking, if not actually rash, to attempt to prescribe for the future. If I take the risk once more, I hope the readers of FOREIGN AFFAIRS will bear in mind the handicaps under which I write.

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The chief lesson of the World Economic Conference is to reinforce and drive home a conclusion which emerges from the history of all international conferences since the war, namely, that there is little hope of achieving agreement among a large gathering of statesmen or even of experts unless the ground has been thoroughly and systematically prepared beforehand and a general understanding reached by negotiation or otherwise as to the character and terms of the agreement to be concluded.

This process of preparation had been undertaken in the case of the World Conference and some progress had been made in laying down lines of agreement on the chief items of the agenda. But the Report of the Preparatory Committee -- though unanimous -- was not a wholly satisfactory document from this point of view. Its comments were often vague and covered up differences of opinion which were bound to emerge when general resolutions were converted into action. Even in regard to monetary policy, on which the greatest measure of agreement was attained, there were differences of opinion as to the possibility of government or banking action fostering a rise of prices and as to the time that might be required before an international monetary standard could be reëstablished.

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