A pioneering history traces the origins of global economic governance―and the political conflicts it generates―to the aftermath of World War I.
International economic institutions like the IMF and World Bank exert incredible influence over the domestic policies of many states around the world. These institutions date from the end of World War II and amassed power during the neoliberal era of the late twentieth century. But as Jamie Martin shows. if we want to understand their deeper origins and the ideas and dynamics that shaped their controversial powers, we must turn back to the explosive political struggles that attended the birth of global economic governance in the early twentieth century.
The Meddlers tells the story of the rise of the first international economic institutions, including the League of Nations and Bank for International Settlements, created at the end of World War I. These institutions endowed civil servants, bankers, and colonial authorities from Europe and the United States with extraordinary powers: to enforce austerity, coordinate the policies of independent central banks, oversee development programs, and regulate commodity prices. In a highly unequal world, the institutions faced a new political challenge: was it possible to reach into sovereign states and empires to intervene in domestic economic policies without generating political backlash?
Martin follows the intense conflicts provoked by the earliest international efforts to govern capitalism―from Weimar Germany to the Balkans, Nationalist China to colonial Malaya, and the Chilean desert to Wall Street. The Meddlers shows how the fraught problems of sovereignty and democracy are not unique to late twentieth-century globalization, but instead first emerged during an earlier period of imperial competition, world war, and economic crisis.
Jamie Martin is Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University. His writing has appeared in London Review of Books, the Nation, and Bookforum.