cover image The Economic Government of the World: 1933–2023

The Economic Government of the World: 1933–2023

Martin Daunton. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $45 (1,024p) ISBN 978-0-374-14641-2

Efforts to make the world run smoothly in the face of global economic disasters from the Great Depression to the Covid-19 recession are recapped in this sweeping study of international economic institutions. Cambridge University economics professor Daunton (State and Market in Victorian Britain) surveys a century of initiatives to develop currency exchange rates, international trade and capital flows, and national economic policies. He elaborates three historical movements: the shift in exchange rate policy from the gold standard to the 1944 Bretton Woods system of fixed but flexible exchange rates to the current regime of floating exchange rates; the long struggle to negotiate lower tariffs through the arduous General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and other processes; and the ambitions of poor countries to develop and win fairer deals on trade and aid from an international order dominated by rich nations. Daunton focuses on the ideas of such figures as John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, and highlights both watershed moments and minor kerfuffles, including the “chicken war” of 1962 that pitted American poultry exporters against European trade barriers. Tackling a mountain of material on this complex subject in lucid, elegant prose, Daunton spotlights the constant tension between the elite goal of global economic efficiency and voters’ demands on national governments for equality, stable jobs, or welfare spending. The result is a robust history that elucidates the human impact of the machinery of global trade and finance. Photos. (Nov.)