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2021 | OriginalPaper | Buchkapitel

6. At the Origins of European Monetary Cooperation: Triffin, Bretton Woods, and the European Payments Union

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Abstract

This chapter explores how the economic and political difficulties of the interwar period and the immediate postwar era forced politicians, economists, and institutions to rethink the European economic and monetary system. Triffin was a key figure in that dynamic and quick to spot the fundamental dilemma of international economic relations. The failure of the Bretton Woods system to restore multilateralism order led Triffin to consider that the regional approach was the appropriate level to achieve a stable international economic order. This vision gave birth to the European Payments Union in 1950 whose success produced the conditions to deal with monetary integration in depth in Europe.

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Fußnoten
1
It was not Triffin but Oscar L. Altman (1961, 164) who first used the term “dilemma.”
 
2
For a Triffin’s biography, see Maes (2013), Maes and Pasotti (2018) and Wilson (2015).
 
3
This idea was suggested by Guido Carli, former President of the EPU and Governor of the Bank of Italy: “(…) it is probable that Triffin’s close involvement with and understanding of the EPU led to his early diagnosis of the ills that would eventually undermine the system of stable but adjustable exchange rates based on the dollar as the primary reserve asset” (1982, 167).
 
4
Maes and Pasotti (2018) show how the EPU led to a shift in Triffin’s view of the geography of the international monetary system, considering a regional approach of international monetary integration.
 
5
International liquidity has to be understood as resources readily available for monetary authorities in order to finance balance of payments deficits and defend exchange rate stability. These resources could be liquid assets, such as gold and foreign exchange, or facilities for borrowing abroad.
 
6
Léon H. Dupriez (1901–1986) was a Belgian economist, Doctor of Law, Doctor of Political and Social Sciences. He studied at Harvard in 1918–1919 before returning to Belgium. He was one of the pioneers of the introduction of statistical methods in economics, importing US methods from Harvard.
 
7
In order to finance its theoretical research, the ISE produced business cycle analyses and forecasts, which were sold to private and (semi-) public corporations and institutions (Maes et al. 2000). But the influence of the ISE on economic policy went far beyond that. Dupriez and several other members of the institute combined their academic careers with senior positions in Belgium’s central bank. Moreover, several members, such as Albert-Edouard Janssen and Paul van Zeeland, occupied key positions in different governments (Maes 2009).
 
8
After obtaining his Ph.D. at Harvard, Triffin returned to Belgium in the fall of 1938 but failed to find any position because of the recruitment policy of Belgian institutions at that time. Triffin (1981, 241) recollected that “a decent number of Flemings would have to be appointed first in order to approximate parity with the Walloons, who had up to then filled most of the existing openings.” Later, Triffin pointed out that Dupriez was disappointed that he did not continue the industry localization studies at Harvard. Moreover, Dupriez wanted him to complete another Ph.D. at Louvain. See Ferrant et al. (2010, 27). Therefore, in 1939, Triffin accepted an appointment as instructor in economics at Harvard.
 
9
This change in thinking of US financial diplomacy vis-à-vis Latin American countries probably explains why the FRB gave Triffin full autonomy and independence during his money doctoring missions, not given any prior instructions. See Triffin (1981, 242).
 
10
The US cooperation policy toward Latin America was not only driven by the desire for economic development. Reminding us of the geopolitical issues in the context of the Second World War, Helleiner (2009, 6) writes that “this shift [in neighborhood policy] emerged partly in the context of US worries about growing German influence in the region.”
 
11
As developed earlier, this set of ideas was not so new when we analyze US monetary thinking in the 1930s, especially at the US Treasury. Like Triffin, Harry D. White, one of the architects of the Bretton Woods system and a member of the US Treasury, recommended in the 1930s control of capital flows or changes in reserve requirements in order to manage the US monetary and banking system (Rojas 2016). Helleiner (2014, 86) showed that White was also committed to this new approach of money doctoring in Latin American countries, leading missions to Cuba in the second half of the 1930s.
 
12
Triffin considered that these measures were more effective alternatives than traditional policies, such as deflation or devaluation, which did not sufficiently target the categories of transactions. For instance, the foreign exchange control could reduce the balance of trade deficit by restricting less essential imports, such as luxury goods.
 
13
According to Article III, each country could borrow from the IMF up to an amount limited by its quota. The IMF’s resources are made up of countries’ initial contributions—equal to the borrowing rights—divided up as 25% in gold and 75% in national currencies.
 
14
We follow Triffin’s distinction (1950, 5–6) between gold convertibility of currency—the ability for private individuals to freely convert national currency into gold at the official fixed price—and convertibility on the foreign exchange market, which referred to the ability for private individuals to buy and sell freely the national currency for the currency of another country. Under the Bretton Woods system, except for the United States, countries were only concerned with the second form of convertibility.
 
15
European countries needed immediate key imports such as foodstuffs to meet their basic needs. Moreover, European industry did not produce exports that could have financed this increase in imports. To boost industrial activity, new and improved capital was required. The need for both primary and capital goods explains the extent of the European current account deficit.
 
16
After an official visit to Moscow early in 1947, Marshall, Secretary of State, realized that Joseph Stalin did not intend to reduce his influence on European territories occupied by the Soviet army, quite the contrary. According to. Kaplan and Schleiminger (1989, p. 15), “Regardless of Soviet behaviour to their east, economic hardship seemed to strengthen the appeal of western European Communist parties, particularly in France and Italy. Thus a westward expansion of Soviet hegemony appeared within the realm of the possible.”
 
17
Marshall’s speech on 5 June 1947 at Harvard was explicit: “It is already evident that, before the United States Government can proceed much further in its efforts to alleviate the situation and help start the European world on its way to recovery, there must be some agreement among the countries of Europe (…) This is the business of the Europeans. The initiative, I think, must come from Europe.”
 
18
RTPY, box 19, “Summary of Triffin’s IMF memoranda and proposals for the multilateralization of Intra-European credits and settlements (September 1947–December 1949).”
 
19
RTPY, box 19, “Triffin’s EPU proposals… 1947–1948,” The Unresolved Problem of Financing European Trade, December 16, 1947, IMF Staff Memorandum No. 160.
 
20
According to Wilson (2015, 460–61), the IMF staff were not enthusiastic about Triffin’s proposal because they considered that a clearing mechanism favored the exchange of non-essential goods, delaying European economic reconstruction. Moreover, since the debate on implementing the Marshall Plan was a political issue, outside the scope of the IMF, the IMF staff felt uncomfortable.
 
21
RTPY, box 19, “Triffin’s EPU proposals…1947–1948,” Multilateralization of European Payments Agreements among Fund Members, May 7, 1948, IMF Staff Memorandum No. 226.
 
22
According to Wilson (2015, 369), Triffin learned of the Keynes Plan in September 1942 when his hierarchical superior at the FRB, Walter Gardner, forwarded him a copy.
 
23
It was Triffin’s request to be the first technical representative of the IMF in Western Europe. Triffin (1981, fn2, 243) recalled that he was appointed “Roving Technical Head of the IMF in Europe,” reflecting the absence of a clear definition of his role there. Actually, he took the opportunity to follow closely the discussions between European countries and to develop his own ideas on possible remedies, prompting calls to order by Bernstein, his IMF superior (Wilson 2015, 484–96).
 
24
This CEEC was converted into the Organization for European Economic Cooperation in April 1948.
 
25
Even in the EPU operation, the IMF decided not to play a role.
 
26
The Marshall Plan helped to establish the EPU’s working capital ($350 million) and in addition gave assistance to structural debtor members. In his 1948 memorandum, Triffin (RTPY 1948, 5) had proposed an external aid of $338 million to constitute the Clearing’s working capital.
 
27
See Kaplan and Schleiminger (1989, 360–63) for an account of the source of ideas at the origin of the EPU.
 
28
Triffin recalled this event in his career without shedding light on the content of US instructions. However, it could be assumed that the US administration wanted to undermine the EPU. See Ferrant et al. (2010, 41).
 
29
Monnet supported Triffin’s proposal to transform the UEP into a European reserve fund with conviction and enthusiasm.
 
30
We need be more precise when we use the term “persistent balance of payments deficit.” Indeed, until the early 1970s, the US ran a current account surplus with the world. When Charles de Gaulle’s Finance Minister, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, spoke of the US “exorbitant privilege” in the 1960s, he referred to the ability for the United States to borrow on short term easily and at low cost to lend on long term to the rest of the world. In other words, “the source of the dollar balances accumulated abroad was net capital outflows, nor current account deficits” (Portes 2012, 196).
 
31
In his 1957 Europe and the Money Muddle, Triffin already forecast the formulation of the dilemma: “The enormous improvement of foreign countries’ reserves which has taken place in recent years has been primarily the result of vast redistribution of net reserves from the United States to the rest of the world (…) it is evident that such a movement could not continue indefinitely without eventually undermining confidence in the dollar itself” (Triffin 1957, 296–97).
 
32
Triffin’s efforts to promote regional trade and payments agreements in Latin American countries, Asia or Africa were important since the 1950s. See Triffin (1966, Chaps. XII and XIII).
 
33
RTPY, box 19, “EPU revision 1952,” Draft Outline of Major Proposals for E.P.U. and I.M.F. Revision, August 8, 1952, N° 00005.
 
34
Thanks to the success of the EPU, Triffin became the monetary expert of the action committee for the United States of Europe of Monnet. From 1957, he also became Robert Marjolin’s adviser at the European Commission.
 
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Metadaten
Titel
At the Origins of European Monetary Cooperation: Triffin, Bretton Woods, and the European Payments Union
verfasst von
Pierre-Hernan Rojas
Copyright-Jahr
2021
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47102-6_6