Courtesy Reuters

In this fortieth anniversary year of the international monetary conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, there have been numerous but vague calls for a new Bretton Woods conference to improve our international monetary system which, if not actually ailing, at least leaves many participants uneasy and discomfited. Much of the discomfort relates to the large and burdensome external debt that has accumulated around the world, but much also goes beyond debt to the underlying monetary arrangements among countries.

Are international monetary arrangements stable? Are they likely to survive over a considerable period of time, such as a couple of decades? My answer is negative. Dissatisfaction with the very short-run and year-to-year movements in real exchange rates, combined with technological developments which will lead to further integration of the world economy, will sooner or later force a change of existing arrangements. Unless that alteration is carefully managed, it will take the

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  • Richard N. Cooper is the Maurits C. Boas Professor of International Economics at Harvard University. He was Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs during 1977-1981, and Provost of Yale University in 1972-74. He is the author of The Economics of Interdependence and other works. This article draws on a paper prepared for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to honor the fortieth anniversary of the Bretton Woods Conference. Copyright (c) 1984 Richard N. Cooper.
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