The finance ministers and representatives of central banks from the world’s ten largest “capitalist” economies gathered in Bonn, West Germany on November 20, 1968. The global financial system was then enthralled by a third major currency crisis of the past year or so and there was great angst and disagreement as to what to do about it. While sterling had become something of a recurring devaluation tendency and francs perpetually, it seemed, in disarray, this time it was the Deutsche mark that was the great object of conjecture and anger. What happened at that meeting, a discussion that lasted thirty-two hours, depends upon which source material you choose to dissect it. From the point of view of the Germans, it was a convivial exchange of ideas from among partners; the Americans and British, a sometimes testy and perhaps heated debate about clearly divergent merits; the French were just outraged.
The communique issued at the end of the “conference” only said, “The ministers and governors had a comprehensive and thorough exchange of views on the basic problems of balance-of-payments disequilibria and on the recent speculative capital movements.” In reality, none of them truly cared about the former except as may be controlled by the latter. These “speculative capital movements” became the target of focused energy which would not restore balance and stability but ultimately see the end of the global monetary system.
Some background is needed before jumping into West Germany’s financial energy. The gold exchange standard under the Bretton Woods framework had appeared to have lasted as far as this monetary conference, but it had ended in practicality long before. In the late 1950’s, central banks, the Federal Reserve primary among them, had rendered gold especially and increasingly irrelevant in settling the world’s trade finance.
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