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Camille Gutt and Postwar International Finance

Author(s):Crombois, Jean F.
Reviewer(s):Buyst, Erik

Published by EH.NET (November 2011)

Jean F. Crombois, Camille Gutt and Postwar International Finance. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011. xi + 192 pp. $99 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-84893-058-2.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Erik Buyst, Center for Economic Studies, University of Leuven.

The title of this book is somewhat misleading. Camille Gutt was the first managing director of the IMF (1946-1951), so the reader expects a thorough analysis of Gutt?s opinions, strategy, achievements and failures during that period. Unfortunately only the last chapter, about twenty pages, deals explicitly with this highly intriguing aspect of Gutt?s remarkable career. Most of the book is a kind of updated summary of Crombois? earlier work published in 1999: Camille Gutt. Les finances et la guerre, 1940-1945.?

The first chapter provides an interesting biographical overview of Gutt until 1940 both as a successful businessman and as a politician. He was Belgian Finance Minister in 1934-1935 and from 1939 to 1945. Gutt became a staunch adversary of currency depreciation or devaluation. In his opinion devaluation would only lead to price increases and delay the necessary deflationary measures that ultimately had to be taken. These ideas were framed in the 1920s when the Belgian franc faced a difficult stabilization process. By the end of the 1930s however the gold standard had virtually disappeared. Nevertheless, Gutt stuck to his views.

The second chapter deals with his role as Finance Minister in the Belgian government-in-exile in London during the Second World War. Most governments-in-exile were cut off from their tax base and therefore highly dependent on British financial aid. This was not true in the Belgian case for two reasons. First, before the Nazi-invasion a large part of the gold reserves of the Belgian central bank had been shipped to London or the U.S. So Belgium could help to finance the British war effort by lending its gold. Second, Belgium still controlled the Congo which provided many raw materials crucial to war production, such as copper and cobalt — not to mention the deliveries of Congolese uranium to the U.S., which gave rise to complex secret arrangements.

The next two chapters discuss Keynes? plans concerning the setting-up of an International Clearing Union. The Belgian government saw these plans as a potential threat to national sovereignty. Gutt responded to the challenge by launching the idea of regional integration. These initiatives would eventually lead to the Benelux agreements. There are few publications available in English on the emergence of the Benelux, so these chapters are certainly of interest to the international reader.?????

Chapter 5 tackles the Bretton Woods negotiations. Crombois notes that the Belgians were given important positions in the organization of the conference (p. 105), but unfortunately does not provide an explanation. Anyway, Gutt and several other Belgian delegates became ?trustworthy intermediaries between the Americans and the British while keeping on good terms with the French, Dutch and Canadians in particular? (p. 107).??

The final chapter focuses on Gutt?s role as managing director of the IMF. The general picture largely confirms the view presented earlier by Harold James (1996) and Barry Eichengreen (2007). In the era?s most important challenges, such as the Marshall Plan, the sterling devaluation of 1949, and the setting-up of the European Payments Union, the IMF did not play a significant role. Was Gutt responsible for the side-lining of the IMF? Crombois concludes that Gutt failed to grasp the importance of the looming Cold War. Gutt?s views were still dominated by the legal commitments of the Bretton Woods agreements and their universal approach to monetary and convertibility issues.


Barry Eichengreen (2007), The European Economy since 1945: Coordinated Capitalism and Beyond, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Harold James (1996), International Monetary Cooperation since Bretton Woods, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Erik Buyst is professor of economics and history at the Center for Economic Studies, University of Leuven ( His publications include E. Buyst and I. Maes (2008), ?Central Banking in Nineteenth-century Belgium: Was the NBB a Lender of Last Resort?? Financial History Review 15: 153-73 and E. Buyst et al. (2005), The Bank, the Franc and the Euro: A History of the National Bank of Belgium, Tielt: Lannoo.

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Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII