The Economic Government of the World 1933–2023 by Martin Daunton - review by Harold James

Harold James

Fuzzing It Up

The Economic Government of the World 1933–2023


Allen Lane 1,024pp £45

Martin Daunton has written a powerful and comprehensive survey of what most people think of as world economic governance: the extraordinary network of financial institutions that manage global interconnectedness. This work will become a classic analysis of disillusion. It begins with an iconic example of the failure of multilateralism, the 1933 London World Economic Conference, and ends with another instance of failure: the inability of global institutions to develop a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic. ‘Truly global economic government has never existed,’ Daunton concludes.

The broad arc of the narrative is Great Expectations followed by Lost Illusions. Daunton examines the interconnected wartime creation of institutions designed to manage not only the international monetary system (the International Monetary Fund), development (the World Bank) and trade flows (the aborted International Trade Organization and the substitute General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was eventually replaced by the now practically moribund World Trade Organization), but also food production and supply. Towards the end of the book, he turns to new global challenges, in particular climate security.

There are two big turning points in the story. The first is the movement in the 1940s towards what the political scientist John Ruggie termed ‘embedded liberalism’, a scenario in which there were new international institutions but no formal rules limiting the market. One of Daunton’s original points

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