Robert Triffin: A Life

Ivo Maes; Ilaria Pasotti

With World War II still raging, nations came together to create a new international monetary order, the Bretton Woods system. This agreement created the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and a system of stable exchange rates with currencies pegged against the dollar. One man saw the political, economic, and moral tensions inherent in keeping the dollar, a national currency, as a global reserve currency. When the monetary arrangement collapsed in 1973, economist Robert Triffin had already predicted its downfall two decades previously. Robert Triffin, a Belgian-American scholar and policy advisor, was a defining voice in economics and international politics in the twentieth century and an architect of the new multilateral liberal world order in his own right. Best known for his analysis of the vulnerabilities of the international monetary system - the "Triffin dilemma" - Triffin was a voice of reason and compassion in the postwar period. Triffin played a key role in the debates on European monetary integration, especially with his proposals for a European Reserve Fund and a European currency unit, becoming one of the intellectual fathers of Europe's single currency, the euro. This intellectual biography evaluates what made Triffin a crucial figure in modern economic history. With an emphasis on the ideas that shaped the postwar international system, Robert Triffin: A Life explores both the man and the mission. In addition to analyzing his work in economics and policymaking, Ivo Maes and Ilaria Pasotti trace Triffin's story from a very modest background, as the son of a butcher, who grew up through the interwar period, to a singularly influential economist in the late twentieth century. The first biography of one of the intellectual giants of the postwar era, Robert Triffin critically examines the accomplishments and the legacy of a scholar who believed that innovations in economic policy could lead to a better and more peaceful world.


Preface by Jacques de Larosiere
Introduction: A Monk in Economists' Clothing
Figures and tables
1 A Child of the Interwar Period
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Early Years
1.3 Studies at Louvain and the Belgian Franc Devaluation of 1935
1.4 Graduate Studies at Harvard
1.5 The Theory of Currency Overvaluation and the Belgian Devaluation
1.6 Monopolistic Competition Theory
1.7 A Difficult Year in Belgium and Return to Harvard
2 Money Doctor in Latin America
2.1 Introduction
2.2 The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in the Early 1940s
2.3 Triffin's Vision of the Latin American Economies
2.4 The Latin American Missions
2.5 Triffin's Global View on the International Monetary System
3 Architect of the European Payments Union
3.1 Introduction
3.2 The Early Years of the International Monetary Fund
3.3 The European Economy and the Marshall Plan
3.4 Triffin and the Exchange Rate Issue
3.5 Triffin and the Creation of the European Payments Union
3.6 The German Payments Crisis
3.7 Triffin's Search for Destination
3.8 Triffin's Retrospective View of the EPU
4 Bretton Woods Cassandra
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Yale and the Vietnam War
4.3 Europe and the Money Muddle
4.4 Gold and the Dollar Crisis
4.5 Reform Debates in the 1960s
4.6 The Demise of the Bretton Woods System
4.7 The Paper-dollar Standard
5 Monetary Expert on Monnet's Action Committee for the United States of Europe
5.1 Introduction
5.2 A Strong Advocate of the EPU Approach
5.3 The Rome Treaty
5.4 The Campaign for a European Reserve Fund
5.5 The 1969 Hague Summit and the Werner Report
6 Return to Belgium
6.1 Introduction
6.2 IMS: the International Monetary Scandal
6.3 The European Monetary System
6.4 The Development of the Private ECU Market
7 Epilogue


Ivo Maes is Senior Advisor at the Economics and Research Department of the National Bank of Belgium and a Professor, Robert Triffin Chair, at the Universite catholique de Louvain, as well as at ICHEC Brussels Management School. He previously served as a member of the Committee for Institutional Reform of the West African Monetary Union and as the President of the Council of the European Society for the History of Economic Thought. He has been a visiting professor at Duke University (USA), the Universite de Paris-Sorbonne, and the Universita Roma Tre. Ilaria Pasotti is a researcher and an archivist. She has a Ph.D. in History of Economic Thought from the University of Florence. From 2009 to 2014 she was a researcher at the Catholic University of Milan. She has been a visiting researcher at the National Bank of Belgium, the Universite Catholique de Louvain, and Cambridge University.