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Letter: What Keynes said at first IMF-World Bank meeting

As the debate on a new Bretton Woods continues with the excellent article by Rana Foroohar (Opinion, April 18), it might be wise to remember what John Maynard Keynes, the “father” of the IMF and the World Bank, said at their inaugural meeting in March 1946.

Drawing on an analogy with Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty (his wife Lydia Lopokova was a famous étoile), he imagined that a good fairy would come and give three gifts to the twin institutions. First, a coat of many colours intended “as a perpetual reminder that they [the IMF and World Bank] belong to the whole world”; second, a box of vitamins to encourage “energy and fearless spirit” and third “a spirit of wisdom”.

Yet, he also feared the arrival of an uninvited malicious fairy saying: “You two brats shall grow up politicians; your every thought and act should have an arrière-pensée, everything you determine shall not be for its own sake or on its own merits but because of something else”.

Let’s try not to lose this global inspiration as we build something fit for the next generation.

Giovanni Farese
Professor of Economic History
European University of Rome, Italy

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