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History of Political Economy 36.2 (2004) 405-407

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International Organizations and the Analysis of Economic Policy, 1919–1950. By Anthony M. Endres and Grant A. Fleming. London: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 290 pp.

As we tell our graduate students, economists with Ph.D.s have a range of employment opportunities outside the academy, including especially the international agencies known by their initials: BIS, IBRD, ILO, IMF, OECD, etc. This book describes some of the work of their pioneering predecessors in the interwar and Second World War period, in the Economic and Financial Section of the League of Nations (LON), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and, in its early years, the United Nations (UN). It is not an administrative history of the role of economists within these institutions; the authors' admirable intention is "to survey what was contributed in an intellectual sense to economic and social research by the social scientists—especially the economists—who worked in, or attached as consultants to, some of the principal international organizations from 1919 to circa 1950" (2). They intend to build on and go beyond the shorter studies of Neil de Marchi (1991) and Louis Pauly (1996), who both concentrated on the Economic and Financial Section of the League of Nations. In the event, it is mainly the ILO economists who receive the additional attention.

After a lengthy introduction, devoted mainly to historiographical issues, the authors commence their survey with the macroeconomic policy recommendations offered by the ILO and LON economists in the 1920s and 1930s to deal with business cycles and financial crises. Having documented the unsurprising fact that ILO-LON [End Page 405] research on the subject mirrored that of more academic contemporaries, notably Irving Fisher, R. G. Hawtrey, and J. M. Keynes, in locating the source of trouble in monetary factors, the authors rightly describe the resulting monetary policy prescriptions of ILO or LON economists in the next chapter before their views on public investment. Chapter 2 does, however, include a lengthy and informative discussion of the famous work by Bertil Ohlin (1931), Gottfried Haberler (1937) and Jan Tinbergen (1938, 1939) for the League in the 1930s. But Endres and Fleming fail to recognize the contribution of other LON economists, for instance Marcus Fleming, who wrote the chapter "International Aspects of Business Cycles" for Haberler 1937, even though they claim to have made use of the extensive LON archives in Geneva. They have more to say about the contributions of individual economists at the ILO, such as J. R. Bellerby and P. W. Martin on monetary policy and on public works policies, in chapters 3 and 4.

In chapter 5 the authors turn to real international economics, that is, trade policy research, but return to domestic issues in chapter 6, which is concerned with social economics—including social insurance and unemployment, wages, and wage policy—at the ILO, before attending to international finance and exchange rate policy in chapter 7. In chapter 5 they document the internationalist economists' consistent advocacy of free trade—the "policy of Geneva"—concentrating on the publications of Ohlin, J. B. Condliffe, the first author of the LON World Economic Surveys, and Folke Hilgerdt (1942). The authors' self-denying ordinance not to consider the practical impact of LON research (7) means that they have less to say about James Meade, Condliffe's successor as author of the Surveys in 1938–40, even though they conclude the chapter with the statement that "the Geneva research program . . . ultimately proved pivotal in providing the intellectual rationale for the postwar freer trade machinery of the GATT" (132). Chapter 7 is concerned, of course, with Ragnar Nurkse's International Currency Experience (1944). But it is curious that they claim this has been "especially neglected" (168) when most of the later work referenced in the text and footnotes explicitly discusses and/or tests Nurkse's hypotheses about the behavior of fixed and of floating exchange rates. They portray Nurkse's policy prescription of spontaneous international policy coordination conducted under broad rules as...


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pp. 405-407
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Archived 2005
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