Toward the end of the Second World War, in July 1944, representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and 40 other countries met at Bretton Woods, a resort in New Hampshire, to lay the foundation for the post-war international financial order. Such a new system, they hoped, would prevent another worldwide economic cataclysm like the Great Depression that had destabilized Europe and the United States in the 1930s and had contributed to the rise of Fascism and the war.
Therefore, the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, as the Bretton Woods conference was officially called, created the International Monetary Fund (the IMF) and the World Bank to prevent economic crises and to rebuild economies shattered by the war.
The Bretton Woods strategy addressed what were considered to be the two main causes of the pre-war economic downturn and obstacles to future global prosperity—the lack of stable financial markets around the world that had led to the war and the destruction caused by the war itself. The IMF would be aimed at stabilizing global financial markets and national currencies by providing the resources to establish secure monetary policy and exchange rate regimes, while the World Bank would rebuild Europe by facilitating investment in reconstruction and development.
Although intended to benefit the global economy and contribute to world peace, the World Bank and the IMF, collectively referred to as international financial institutions (IFIs), have become primary targets of the anti-globalization movement. In many countries, they are resented and are viewed as imposing Western-style capitalism on developing countries without regard to the social effects.
The following Issue in Depth is designed to help you understand the history, purpose, structure, and activities of the IFIs and to describe both benefits and concerns that surround the World Bank and the IMF.
Next: The Origins of the IFIs
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