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Now is the time to rediscover John Maynard Keynes’s revolutionary ideas for the organization of international trade and adapt them to re-balance finances in the world’s economies of the twenty-first century.
The economist John Maynard Keynes came to the postwar table with an innovative project for the future of world trade, which he called the International Trade Organization (ITO), supported by an international central bank, the International Clearing Union (ICU). The ICU was meant to issue a world currency for trade, the "bancor." Why the ITO and the ICU never materialized, and what would have changed if they had, is a sobering story from which we have a lot to learn.
It tells us that, in a rational world, it would be possible to build a trading system serving the needs of people in both the North and the South. With an ITO and an ICU, we could have had a world order in which no country could run a huge trade deficit (the US deficit stood at $716 billion in 2005) or the huge trade surplus of contemporary China.
Under such a system, crushing the third-world debt and the devastating structural-adjustment policies applied by the World Bank and the IMF would have been unthinkable, although the system would not have abolished capitalism. If we could resurrect Keynes’s concept, another world really might be possible: he figured out how to make it work more than 60 years ago. His plan would have to be dusted off and fine tuned, but its core remains relevant.