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 International Monetary Fund and World Bank exert incredible influence over the domestic policies of many states. 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 first international institutions to govern the world economy, including the League of Nations and Bank for International Settlements, created after 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, they faced a new political challenge: was it possible to reach into sovereign states and empires to intervene in domestic economic policies without generating a backlash?
Martin follows the intense political 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 posed by institutions like the IMF are not unique to late twentieth-century globalization, but instead first emerged during an earlier period of imperial competition, world war, and economic crisis.
About the Panelists
Jamie Martin, Assistant Professor of History and of Social Studies at Harvard University, is an international historian with a focus on the history of international political economy and empire, particularly during the era of the world wars. He is the author of The Meddlers: Sovereignty, Empire, and the Birth of Global Economic Governance (Harvard University Press, 2022), which charts the origins and rise of the first international institutions to govern global capitalism after World War I – and the political resistance they generated around the world, from Western Europe to the Balkans, the United States, Latin America, China, and colonial Southeast Asia. He has published widely on the political economy of the world wars, international institutions, the history of commodities, and the intellectual history of crisis.
Susan Pedersen, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia University, specializes in British history, the British empire, comparative European history, and international history. Her book about the League of Nations and its impact on the imperial order, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, appeared from Oxford University Press in summer 2015. In 2014, Pedersen founded a graduate training collaboration in Twentieth-Century British history with Guy Ortolano of NYU and Peter Mandler of Cambridge University. PhD students working in this field participate in regular dissertation workshops and book discussions across all three institutions.
Charles Sabel is a professor of law and social science at Columbia Law School. Previously, he was Ford International Professor of Social Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His undergraduate degree is in social studies, and his graduate degree is in government, both from Harvard University. His earlier work focused on the crisis of mass production and its implications for the regulation of markets and the macroeconomy. His more recent work develops pragmatist ideas into a general conception of democratic experimentalism, with particular attention to regulation, the provision of complex social services, and contracting under uncertainty.
Jack L. Snyder is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Relations in the political science department and the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. His books include Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War (MIT Press, 2005), co-authored with Edward D. Mansfield; From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict (Norton Books, 2000); Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition. (Cornell University Press, 1991); The Ideology of the Offensive: Military Decision Making and the Disasters of 1914 (Cornell 1984); and Civil Wars, Insecurity, and Intervention, co-editor with Barbara Walter (Columbia University Press, 1999).
About the Moderator
Turkuler Isiksel is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia and works in contemporary political theory. She is particularly interested in how descriptive and normative categories tailored to the nation-state apply to political institutions beyond that context and combines the perspectives of normative theory, legal analysis, and institutionalist political science in her work. Her substantive research interests include constitutional theory, the law and politics of the European Union and other international economic institutions, Enlightenment political philosophy (especially the evolution of ideas about commerce and international politics in the eighteenth century), theories of corporate personhood, sovereignty, citizenship, and human rights. She served as a Governing Board Member at the SOF/Heyman from 2019 through 2022.
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