Bretton Woods – Mark I

The Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire was the location for a historically significant meeting in the summer of 1944. John Maynard Keynes was part of the British negotiating team at a meeting to plan the post World War II economic order. As a result of the meeting an adjustable peg system of semi-fixed exchange rates was developed and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD – now part of the World Bank Group) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were also born. As a result of this meeting the small rural location of Bretton Woods has moved into the economics lexicon. The institutions born out of this meeting have been subject to considerable criticism in recent years and in the first article linked to below, George Monbiot argues that it is unfair to attach this criticism to Lord Keynes. With a recent meeting of the G20 having been dubbed as Bretton Woods II, the original meeting and its outcomes have been thrown back into the limelight.

Keynes is innocent: the toxic spawn of Bretton Woods was no plan of his Guardian (18/11/08)
How Bretton Woods reshaped the world Guardian (14/11/08)
Shaping the world: Bretton Woods 1944 Guardian (14/11/08)
It takes two Guardian (5/12/08)


  1. Write a short paragraph summarising the outcomes of the Bretton Woods conference in 1944.
  2. Explain the role in the world financial system of (a) the World Bank and (b) the IMF.
  3. Assess the possible validity of the criticisms that have been levelled at the IMF. See particularly the George Monbiot article.
  4. Using diagrams as appropriate, explain how the system of semi-fixed exchange rates negotiated at Bretton Woods worked to maintain economic stability.
  5. Examine the principal reasons for the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system.