Published by EH.NET (December 2002)
Anthony M. Endres and Grant A. Fleming, International Organizations and the
Analysis of Economic Policy, 1919-1950. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2002. xiv + 290 pp. $65 (hardcover), ISBN: 521-79267-3.
Reviewed for EH.NET by D.E. Moggridge, Department of Economics, University of
The purpose of this book is to explore the intellectual contributions of
economists who worked in or were consultants to important international
organizations between 1919 and 1950. The organizations in question are the
International Labour Organization, the Economic and Financial Section of the
League of Nations, the Bank for International Settlements and, after 1945, some
parts of the United Nations. In looking at these, the authors are concerned to
address five questions: “what was distinctive, innovative and significant in a
doctrinal history sense about research”; “what policy questions stimulated the
research undertaken and what policy position flowed from the research”; “what
intellectual influences acted on that research”; how did the research relate to
prevailing orthodoxies and changes therein; and “what limitations can be
identified in the economics as practised … in these organizations” (pp. 7-8).
The book proceeds by topic: business cycles, monetary policy, public investment
policy, trade policy, social economics, international finance and the full
employment movement of the late 1940s. However its coverage is occasionally
unexpectedly narrow: its discussion of late 1940s Keynesianism does not extend
to national accounting, presumably because the individuals concerned, one of
whom received a Nobel Prize in Economics for his work, were called “statistical
experts” and thus not considered economists.
Despite the authors’ claims for broad institutional coverage, their most
serious archival research centers on the International Labour Organization,
with the Economic and Financial Section receiving less attention and the Bank
for International Settlements receiving none. (All references to thinking in
that institution are to its published Annual Reports, despite the
availability of Per Jacobbson’s diary in the Library of the University of
Basle.) The restriction of their archival research to Geneva also means that
they ignore other possible relevant sources such as J.B. Condliffe’s papers and
diary at Berkeley, Alexander Loveday’s papers at Nuffield College, Oxford and
Gottfried Haberler’s papers at the Hoover Institution.
The patchiness in the archival research in the case of the League shows up most
clearly in the discussions of its business cycle research program. It has been
known for some years that Dennis Robertson had substantial correspondence with
Alexander Loveday (the Director of the Economic, Financial and Transit Section)
as well as Gottfried Haberler, and Jan Tinbergen (see Mizen, Moggridge and
Presley 1997). Indeed, it was Robertson who was first offered the job that
eventuated in Haberler’s Prosperity and Depression and it was Robertson
who was hired by Loveday as a consultant and adviser to Tinbergen, with the
result that one of the League-sponsored conferences devoted to Tinbergen’s work
was held in Trinity College, Cambridge in July 1938. Yet in the relevant
chapter Robertson does not make anything other than a cameo appearance at a
League meeting to discuss Tinbergen in September 1937 until he reviewed in 1945
the Report of the League’s Delegation on Economic Depressions (for which, at
Loveday’s request, he wrote a minimum program of action back in 1938).
As I have noted, the ILO archives seem to have been more thoroughly mined than
the League’s with the result that the chapters on monetary policy, public works
and social economics are devoted to the views of its experts. The exposition of
ILO views and their evolution is clear and well done. If there are any
difficulties it is placing these views in context, especially in relation to
the evolving ideas on monetary policy and of one particular economist, J.M.
Keynes. Here the problem is that the authors misread A Treatise on
Money, with its special case for public works, despite their quoting
secondary literature that should have reminded them that they were doing so
rather than, as they think, the opposite (p. 76). As a result the place of the
ILO is understated. On the Keynes front, there is also a problem as to the
relation of later editions of Prosperity and Depression to Keynes’s
views: the fact that Keynes favorably reviewed the second edition seems to have
eluded the authors. They also are in some difficulty with the work of J.R.
Bellerby at the ILO whose originality is understated because the authors are
unclear as to his formal training and possible intellectual influences, where a
reading of his Who’s Who entry might have helped.
The study is more successful in the area of trade policy, where the authors
demonstrate that the League’s economists did carve out a distinctive position,
and discussing Ragnar Nurkse’s International Currency Experience (1944)
and Course and Control of Inflation (1946). However, the discussion of
International Currency Experience is distinctive compared to other
chapters in the study in that it is less related to contemporary developments
of the 1940s than to the literature of the 1970s to 1990s. Perhaps, as a
result, it is misleading on the original Bretton Woods attitudes to freedom of
capital movements. The handling of the “full employment movement” of the later
1940s is more successful in retaining its links to contemporary discussions.
In the end the authors find that economists in international organizations were
generally cautious, guarded and tentative in their policy analysis. They also
suggest that in the 1920s in particular the macroeconomic and monetary analyses
of economists in international organizations were more a reflection of
contemporary orthodoxy than later, although there was some return to the 1920s
situation in 1940s. In between, perhaps because of disagreements within the
profession, in macroeconomic matters economists in international organizations
could be much more eclectic in staking out distinctive positions. In trade and
international monetary affairs, the League’s economists successfully staked out
distinctive positions, perhaps because in both cases the League was on the
sidelines rather than at the center of contemporary policy discussions. The
overall record of contributions is substantial. We are indebted to the authors
for highlighting it.
Reference: Paul Mizen, Don Moggridge, and John Presley (1995), “The Papers of
Dennis Robertson: The Discovery of Unexpected Riches,” History of Political
Economy 29 (Winter 1997), 573-92.
D.E. Moggridge is Professor of Economics at the University of Toronto. In the
past he has edited the papers of John Maynard Keynes, James Meade and Lionel
Robbins. He is currently engaged in preparing an edition of Dennis Robertson’s
professional correspondence for the Royal Economic Society and in writing an
intellectual biography of Harry Johnson.