Continuing Education...Benn Steil on the Battle of Bretton Woods
By Amy Willis
The Council on Foreign Relation’s Benn Steill was Russ Roberts’s guest on EconTalk, where the conversation ranged from Soviet spies to anti-Semitism and imperialism to international power grabs galore.
And again, special congratulations to listeners Rick and Warren, whose responses Roberts used in his follow-up to last week’s episode with Daniel Sumner.
1. Early in the episode, Roberts notes the tension that exists for a nation between wanting to control its own fate and being a part of an international monetary system. What is the nature of this tension, and how does the Battle of Bretton Woods illustrate it? You may find this earlier conversation with Doug Irwin on the Gold Standard helpful.
2. Steil and Roberts note that in international relations today, the United States now takes the role played by Britain at Bretton Woods. What do they mean? To what extent has the U.S. reversed its policies since the end of WWII, and why? What does Steil mean when he says “Where you stand depends on where you sit?”
3. At approximately the forty minute mark, Roberts proclaims that he “hates it” when people claim that wartime spending is good for the economy, and he points to the large deficits run by Britain during World War II with no stimulating effect as evidence. (Roberts makes this argument despite the rise in GDP in the US during WWII. For further discussion, listen to this EconTalk episode with Robert Higgs.) In fact, Roberts claims, not only does wartime spending not help the economy, it only serves to encourage more warfare. How can this be? Why does Roberts claim that wartime spending does not stimulate an economy in depression? What is his logic for arguing that belief in war-ask-stimulus makes war more likely?