Bretton Woods: The View from My Window


Bretton Woods Omni Snow Day Steve Clemons 2011.JPG
(The White Mountains on a Snowy Day Taken From a room in the Omni Mt. Washington Resort; photo credit: Steve Clemons; click image above for very large version)
I’m up communing with the spirit of John Maynard Keynes at the Mt. Washington Resort where he and others established the framework for the International Monetary Fund.
In coming days here, there will be a magnificent conference organized by the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Headliners include the Financial Times‘ Martin Wolf, financier and latter day complex systems philosopher George Soros, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Santa Fe Institute co-founder Brian Arthur, Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, and others.
For those of you who occasionally wonder if I am ripping off Andrew Sullivan with this modest feature of “The View from Your Window” or anyone’s window for that matter, the answer is yes — but with permission. I have the greatest respect for Andrew’s work — and really loved his outreach to readers calling in photos. So, I link back to his great book on the subject — and offer the same here occasionally.
More on the INET Conference and what we are up to soon.
— Steve Clemons


4 comments on “Bretton Woods: The View from My Window

  1. DonS says:

    correction at 10:39: Yes, my wife did tell me “I was going too face” the drive, but what she really told me was that “I was going to fast . . .”
    Actually, I attributed some of the drift in the car (Prius) to it actually feeling ‘loose’, at least when compared to the ‘tight’ steering of the little Opel we had been driving for two weeks.


  2. DonS says:

    Lovely day on Mt Washington, eh, where, if I’m correct, the highest winds on the planet were ever recorded (over 200 mph I believe).
    Enjoy the ‘ambience’ nonetheless, Steve.
    For those who care, we returned from France yesterday — turned in the car in Avignon 2 days ago to have a more leisurely trip back to Paris to fly out. But the vaunted French TGV had equipment problems around Lyon, and everyone on the train had to switch to other equipment (not unusual per a very nice French fellow we talked with as we were crammed in like sardines between the cars (i.e., not even in the main section of the car.) Lots of human interest entertainment with a mom and her toddler and tons of luggage keeping everyone busy as surrogate parents.
    One of the ‘funniest’ things things on the train ride was this Dutch fellow, I think, and family who got on the commandeered train at Lyon, with hardly room for people much less luggage, and was holding up his ticket and asking where he would find his reserved seat. (a seats on the TGV are required to be reserved in advance).
    Stayed overnight in a ‘box’ hotel near the airport. Ate at an uncharacteristically ‘formula’ restaurant – rush rush as opposed to the Southern France leisurely style. But it wasn’t too bad. Fun interchange with two guys who tried to interpret our waitress’ comments to us — she wasn’t too good conveying things in simple
    French and apparently hadn’t picked up much English. Anyway, when they found out we were drinking a bottle of red from the Vaucluse (where we had been staying for 2 weeks) they got really animated, because they were from Cavaillon in the Vacluse. Though I struggled mightily with the bottle, and because it seemed a friendly gesture, I offered them the remainder of the bottle, which was well received.
    Next day (yesterday) we took the inevitable torture medicine of ‘the flight back’ and encountered most of the indignities and exhaustions familiar to travelers. The security inspector at deGaulle was really frustrated when it took him forever to find the corkscrew that showed on xray and was apparently stowed in one of the many pockets of my carry on — honestly I thought I had put in in the check through. So it wound up getting dropped in the plastic cube with other evidences of passenger errata.
    I wont go through the whole miserable tale from there on (which would make a compelling short story, written by one of the fine authors here no doubt), but suffice to say we got processed with hundreds of others through the meatgrinder known as the Philadelphia airport, because we couldn’t get a direct flight to Charlotte NC. Like many others we missed our connection due to insane booking issues, and even more insane, and probably ineffective, security “screening” — they were pushing us through like cattle. (Last minute I had to run back to counter to check through my main bag – which of course you have to pick up and reacheck through customs at Philly – because I had LOTS of stuff in there that would have triggered the skimpiest xray check. (I mean you need multiple knives to cut bread and cheese, right?)
    [aside: one of the most absolutely insane things at Philly, and elsewhere I presume, is that having come from a secured airport departure area – say Paris – and arriving at a secured area in the US, why in heaven’s name are you required to again go through security??? Best I can figure, is that the US just doesn’t trust security processed from incoming foreign arrivals. Why not just cut down the bottle neck and shunt incoming passengers around additional security?]
    One big monkey wrench at Philly – that kept us circling in the air for an extra forty five minutes after a glorious 8 hour flight – was that the air space had been shut down because Mr. Obama needed his personal airport at his disposal for the time. (Like they can find some more efficient way to get from DC to Philly? Of course not). Your’re getting the picture, right?
    So we missed the connector to Charlotte, took three tries to find a quiet enough spot for a glass of wine (not easy), had a simple, late of course, hop to Charlotte, and then the attempt to get out of the Charlotte airport/area, and the 3 hour zombie drive back to SW Virginia which, as my wife told me several times before I responded, I was going too face.
    The bright note — for those of you who might remember, and sympathized — I mentioned that I lost my wallet at deGaulle. When we arrived for departure yesterday, I checked with lost and found ( to follow up on my online form/report to them) and by God a traveler had actually turned it in, and they somehow had not emailed me the message. Pretty amazing.


  3. Dan Kervick says:

    Welcome to my state, Steve.
    I’ve been checking in from time to time with the Institute of New Economic Thinking web wage, and enjoy some of the content they post there, including Perry Mehrling’s blog, “The Money View”.
    I especially like this video with Richard Koo on balance sheet recessions, and the profound error of the austerity drive that is being implemented here:
    As Koo points out, an austerity program combined with massive private sector deleveraging was a disaster in the US from 1929 to 1932, and a disaster in Japan in the 90’s. It is turning out to be a disaster in the UK as seen this past quarter. And this depressingly repeatable disaster will soon be visited upon us here in the US by the quack Republican House abetted by the feckless Democratic onlookers in the Senate and the White House.
    The Japanese tried government austerity to bring their deficits down in the 90’s, and only succeeded in suppressing economic activity even further to the point that their deficits rose even more rapidly. The same will happen here. There is no big boom in private sector investment just waiting to happen, a boom that was being “crowded out” by government borrowing of our ultra-cheap and abundant quantitatively eased money. That’s Republican wishful thinking – the same kind of wishful thinking that is in evidence in Representative Ryan’s absurdly optimistic “plan”. There is no crowding in a desert wasteland.
    And there is certainly no Ricardian equivalence effect holding down private sector investment because of future tax fears. That’s ridiculous. Anybody in the business world can tell you that there is sluggish hiring and sluggish investment because there aren’t enough customers. Decades of the predator state in action, with disposable income under persistent attack, followed by the hideous collapse of an asset bubble, have left people just too poor to buy stuff. Households, local governments, state governments – none of them have any money, and so they can’t manifest the kind of market demand that would make a business want to invest in expanded production or innovation.
    The recent modestly upticked growth numbers are BS, because a large proportion of that alleged growth is confined to the financial sector, and only proves that the financial quants have shown themselves to be persistently ingenious in sucking unearned wealth out of our miserable skimpy national pie. The still scandalously enormous unemployment numbers that ticked down a smidgen are also garbage, reflecting people leaving the labor market altogether and an unchanged jobs-to-population ratio.
    Barack Obama should be dropping to his knees and flagellating himself every morning in atonement for the ghastly plague of unemployed fellow-citizens he decided to walk away from rather than address aggressively. Perhaps the economists at this conference can get the White House to stop thinking about very short term electoral considerations and start ringing the alarm about the cliff of which the country is about to drive itself off.
    I do think some of the INET economists are a little bit too enamored of the Chinese model. A developing country like China, which shared the world for the past few decades with several much richer (per capita) countries can generate sustained high growth rates simply by identifying the products for which they already know there is high demand in the rich part of the world, and then by making those products with their cheap labor. A system of comprehensive planning and centralized organization can work when all you have to do is get a country to march with their cheap but imitative products toward a bazaar filled with affluent markets that others have already built.
    But in the US, we need to create the new markets for new products that drive growth in advanced economies. The trick is to stimulate innovation, and to liberate that innovation through the reconstruction of the deep, broad, and prosperous middle class needed to make those innovations profitable. The neoliberal excess of the past four decades has thrown that middle class away, the middle class which was the key element of American prosperity and opportunity in the postwar era, when we were admired and imitated throughout the world.
    So yes, we need more public investment in the infrastructural frameworks that we already know will be needed to “win the future”. But we also need a program to win the present, a program that can accelerate and ensure consumer deleveraging, and that simply pushes spendable cash into the hands of consumers desperate to satisfy their intensely pent-up demand for the products whose purchases they have deferred for two and a half years. I would suggest that the natural source for this cash is the bloated, corruption-ridden, rent-saturated, and extremely wasteful financial sector, a sector that is so overly engorged on liquidity that they have nothing better to do with it than pour it down the throats of their overly-compensated salary, commission and bonus gluttons.
    I also hope the new thinking among these economists will lead to a disparagement of monetarist thinking and over-reliance on monetary operations and central bank wizard-kings. We have had way too much twiddling with central bank monetary knobs, accompanied by fretful prayers for the economy to grow magically. It’s like people think you can create a fecund and abundant garden by putting a garden hose on the ground at the gate to the garden, turning on the hose, and then going away.
    Anybody who has clear vision can see why and where our economic machinery is broken. You can’t fix it just by throwing oil at it. You need to roll up your sleeves, stick your hands into the creaking, broken, greasy mess of parts, and start moving things around by hand.


  4. David Billington says:

    I remember your bringing this forum to the attention of readers a year or so ago. Glad to
    learn that you are attending and will report your observations and thoughts.


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