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Keynes, John Maynard (1883–1946), 1st Baron Keynes, economist Unidad documental simple Imagen Con objetos digitales
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Letter from Lord Boothby to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

1 Eaton Square, [London].—Explains why he considers the amount of international monetary reserves inadequate, and suggests remedies.

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Transcript

1 Eaton Square.
March 20, 1961.

Dear Pethick,

Thank you for your letter.

I am sorry my debate {1} had to be postponed until March 28, but the Government rightly wanted it taken as a separate subject.

My point is that the amount of international monetary reserves are inadequate to support the ever-growing volume of production and trade in the free world; with the result that the two great international currencies, the dollar and sterling, are under alternate but continuous pressure.

After the war it was assumed—by all except Keynes—that we could rely upon increased gold production and continued growth in holdings of dollars and pounds sterling. This has proved a false assumption. The total amount of funds capable of international movement is now very large indeed, compared to our reserves and IMF drawing rights. And it is this vulnerability that has caused us to adopt what has been described as the “Stop-and-go” policy of recent years, with disastrous effects upon our own economic growth and productivity.

The truth is that the price paid at Bretton Woods for fixed exchanges was supposed to be adequate international monetary reserves; and, owing to the rejection of Keynes’s scheme for the creation of international money in the form of “Bancor”, the necessary reserves were not in fact provided. The monetary system of the free world is therefore obsolete.

Various remedies have been propounded, and I shall touch on some of them.

A rise in the price of gold (now pegged at a wholly artificial level) is obviously one. But it would not be permanent; and I think that at present it is politically impossible.

It is, however, not insuperably difficult to devise means of creating more international liquidity and of converting present holdings of national reserve currencies—sterling and dollars—into holdings of reserves with international backing.

The culmination of a radical revision of the international monetary system should, in my view, be the transformation of the International Monetary Fund into an international central bank, the deposits of which would be an international currency on the lines of Keynes’s “Bancor”. This could be achieved in successive stages; but would ultimately require a revision of the Bretton Woods Charter. The main objective is a reorganisation of the international financial system designed to facilitate economic growth, and to remove the constant threat to balances of payment caused by the movement of “hot” money.

I therefore intend to ask for an international economic conference to consider the whole problem. And I am encouraged by the fact that the Radcliffe Committee saw “great merit in the proposal for a transformation of the I.M.F. into an international central bank”; and that President Kennedy said in his Inaugural Address, “We must now, in co-operation with other lending countries, begin to consider ways in which the international monetary institutions—especially the International Monetary Fund—can be strengthened and more effectively utilised, both in furnishing needed increases in reserves, and in providing the flexibility required to support a healthy and growing world economy”.

I do not know how many speakers there will be. But Derick Amory, Robbins and Bob Brand are certainties. Walter Monckton will be there. And I am hoping to persuade Cyril Radcliffe to do his duty!
It should be an interesting debate on a topic which, in my belief, is of major importance—perhaps the most important of all.

Yours ever,
Bob B.

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Letter-head of the House of Lords. At the head have been written ‘File.’ and ‘620’.

{1} A debate on ‘International Liquidity in the Free World’. See Parliamentary Debates (Hansard): House of Lords, vol. ccxxx, pp. 51–107.

Letter from Hugh Dalton to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

107 Albert Bridge Road, S.W.11.—Is in favour of stabilising the price level and therefore does not believe the Treasury Minute should be abrogated at present (see 1/192), as it is a defence against inflation.

(Printed letter-head of the London School of Economics, which Dalton has enclosed in square brackets.)

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Transcript

107 Albert Bridge Road, S.W.11.
5/3/24.

Dear Pethick Lawrence,

I should like a talk with you sometime before the next Finance Committee meeting. I regret to find that I shall again have to leave early, as I have an engagement at 6.30 on that day to dine with Charles Latham and the London Accountants.

Shortly, my view is the following.

I am in favour of stabilising the price level now & in the near future, though, looking further ahead, I hesitate to commit myself to a definite policy. Many factors seem to me to complicate the distant view.

I am more afraid of inflation in the near future than, I think, you are. I want stabilisation as a defence against the F.B.I., no less than against the old-fashioned deflationist authorities, who are, I think, the weaker of the two possible disturbers of the price level.

I don’t, therefore, feel happy about abrogating the Treasury Minute at this stage. It is our only real defence against inflation at present.

Nor am I so certain as, I think, you are that the Minute will operate to check a healthy, as distinct from a hectic & inflationist, trade revival in the near future.

Keynes said a few months ago at a Committee, of which I am a member, that he thought there was a good deal of margin in the situation, even with the Treasury Minute unchanged. In addition to the margin in the Currency Note Issue, he attached importance to the prospect, with reviving trade, of a more rapid circulation of bank deposits. I would add another factor, pointing in the same direction, namely the prospect of an increase in trade credits (between business men,—I don’t mean bank credits), as confidence grows.

Further, our situation may be eased by a rise in American prices, sufficient to restore the pre-war parity of exchange & lead to British imports of American gold. This has been long in coming, but it may come quickly, if the Federal Reserve Board’s stabilising policy gives way before the strong forces opposed to it.

My present feeling, therefore, is to pronounce in favour of a stable price level as our immediate objective, without committing ourselves to anything very general in the way of economic principles, & not to mention explicitly the Treasury Minute. Nor would I say that a future rise in bank rate is undesirable. If prices continue to rise as they have been doing lately, it may be desirable to raise bank rate in order to secure stability. My belief, (in opposition to that of others, I hear) is that you can stabilise any level of price you choose, & that there is no causal relation between the level chosen & the volume of unemployment.

If, for the time being, we could get the Govt to agree to stabilisation of the price level as a principle, and, implicitly, to whatever measures may be required to secure it, I should feel satisfied.

But I wouldn’t meet trouble half way, or give any encouragement to profiteers, by proclaiming in advance that more money shall be printed than the Treasury Minute allows.

Yours sincerely
Hugh Dalton.

Letter from J. M. Keynes to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Charleston, Firle, Sussex.—The American economists and financiers most likely to be interested in a capital levy are Seligman, Taussig, and Norman Davis.

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Transcript

Charleston, | Firle | Sussex
18. 9. 19

Dear Lawrence,

I am really rather at a loss as to how to answer your letter about Americans interested in a Capital Levy;—the project is so remote from their ideas and their necessities. Amongst economists there is Seligman of Columbia and also old Taussig. Amongst financiers I hardly know whom to mention,—perhaps Norman Davis, whom you may find in Washington, is the best. With any of these, if you meet them, and with any others who know me, certainly make use of my name to any advantage you are able. I presume you will be seeing the New Republic crowd in any case.

Yours sincerely,
J M Keynes

Letter from J. M. Keynes to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

King’s College, Cambridge.—Has written to Snowden proposing an amendment (to the Gold Standard Bill) repealing Section IV of the Bank Act, 1844. He overlooked the importance of this point in his article in this week's Nation.

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Transcript

King’s College, Cambridge
3 May 1925

Dear Pethick-Lawrence,

In my article in this week’s Nation, which you may have seen, I made a bad mistake and gave the Treasury more credit than they deserve. I forgot Section IV of the Bank Act, 1844, which they are not proposing to repeal. This Section obliges the Bank of England to buy gold bullion in unlimited amounts at £3-17-9.

Thus all the dangers, which in my article I thought they were avoiding, they are in fact inviting.

If an amendment could be carried on Monday, repealing Section IV of the Bank Act 1844, it would be an enormous improvement.

I have written a letter to Snowden on the same lines as the above. If you agree with me, I wish you would go round to see him on Monday morning.

Yours sincerely,
J M Keynes

Letter from J. M. Keynes to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury.—Thanks him for a copy of Hansard. Churchill seems to be having doubts (about the reform of the House of Lords?). Is not sorry an inquiry was refused, as it would have been premature.

Letter from J. M. Keynes to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

King’s College, Cambridge.—Commends Pethick-Lawrence’s contribution to a debate in the Commons. Is disappointed by Arthur Greenwood’s response in the Daily Express to his own articles in The Times on compulsory saving.

Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to J. M. Keynes

His visit to Germany has suggested to him the idea of paying the fixed charges of railways out of taxation, leaving running costs to be borne out of the traffic. Asks whether this idea has been developed by economists. Alludes to French activities in Germany. Refers to Charles Trevelyan’s speech at the Political Economy Club propounding the capital levy.

Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to J. M. Keynes

Clarifies his ideas about the provision of free public services, and discusses Pell’s book The Riddle of Unemployment.

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Transcript

20th. February, 1923.

Dear Keynes,

Thank you very much for your letter of the 14th inst. {1} in reply to mine.

I quite understand your point of caution with regard to offering public services to people below cost. This would of course not occur if the public relief was confined to payment of interest on capital already expended. In the case of the road it actually goes beyond this and covers current capital expenditure. I think probably I shall attack the problem in a very general way and consider simply the question of “Prices under National Ownership”. Assuming there is going to be no move in the direction of Socialism this is certainly a very important question.

If I put anything together suitable for “The Economic Journal” I will let you see it in case you care to use it. In the meanwhile if you happen to have in mind the name of any special book on Municipal Finance and Municipal Trading which bears on the subject, you might put it on a postcard and let me have it.

I have just been reading Pell’s book on “The Riddle of Unemployment” {2} which all boils down to his proposal that prices should be kept stabilised through manipulation of the bank rate with an inconvertible paper currency. If you are reviewing it yourself in “The Economic Journal” I shall be interested to see your views about it; if not I should like to know some time what you think of it. It is somewhat arrogantly written but it seemed to me offhand a very valuable suggestion. The two points of criticism that occur to me are, firstly, that there would be considerable opposition among business men to raising the bank rate just at the very time trade began to revive and prices show their first upward tendency, and secondly, whether even this proposal would in fact keep prices stationary or only make the oscillations in prices less intensive than at present. In the metaphor which I used in my little book on prices published by the Oxford Press {3}, would Pell’s machinery produce a completely sensitive governor?

Don’t trouble to reply to this if you are too busy.

Yours sincerely,
[blank]

J. Maynard Keynes Esq.,
46, Gordon Square,
W.C.1.

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{1} PETH 2/198.

{2} The Riddle of Unemployment and its Solution (1922), by Charles Edward Pell.

{3} Why Prices Rise and Fall (1920). A revised edition was issued in 1923.

Letter from J. M. Keynes to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

King’s College, Cambridge.—Will send him his capital levy evidence when it is printed. Thanks him for his efforts ‘about gold’ (i.e. in opposing a return to the gold standard), and deplores Snowden’s behaviour (see Fate Has Been Kind, p. 141).

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Transcript

King’s College, Cambridge
10. 5. 25

Dear Lawrence,

I will send you my Capital Levy evidence when it is printed,—it is in no way confidential so far as I am concerned. I am against an annual tax on capital, because I think one can get almost all the same results by differentiating further against unearned or investment income, without the difficulties of valuation. From the point of view of relaxing {1} saving, I am more afraid of a tax on profits than of a tax on capital.

Thanks for doing your best about gold. In my opinion Snowden disgraced himself with his insincere speech of mock opposition. Why is half your party hard boiled and the other half addled? (Just like mine—except that my left wing is h.b. and right wing a., whereas your right wing is h.b. and left wing a.)

Yours sincerely
J M Keynes

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{1} This word is indistinct.

Letter from J. M. Keynes to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury.—Agrees with his views (on the re-armament loan). Does not think it necessary to impose punitive measures to stop alternative projects. Sends a copy of his article for The Times (2/215).

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Transcript

46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury
March 7, 1937

The Rt. Hon. F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, M.P.
House of Commons,
Westminster, S.W.1.

Dear Pethick-Lawrence,

The line of thought you indicate in your letter of March 5th is in my judgment entirely the right one. Fundamentally this is not a matter of finance, but of calling out, as you say, new sources of production. The answer must depend upon the elasticity of supply.

Personally I believe that the programme can be carried through without any punitive measures to stop alternative projects; though doubtless there will be cases where shortage of plant will for the manufacturer to choose between one thing or another.

I have, as I said I might, written a further article for the Times and enclose a copy of it herewith.

J M Keynes

Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to J. M. Keynes

Summarises his recent address to the Free Trade Union Congress on ‘Pitfalls for Free Traders’, which provoked a surprising amount of indignation.

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Transcript

4th. October, 1926.

Dear Keynes,

Your book on “Laissez-Faire” {1} and the paragraphs about it in this week’s “Nation” prompt me to write you a word for your personal interest only, with regard to my visit to the Free Trade Union Congress at Manchester and my address on “Pitfalls for Free Traders” which I delivered to them.

I set out to establish five points:

1) That free traders were unwise if they said without qualifications when a new duty was being imposed that the price of the article would rise. I quoted artificial silk and motor cars as an illustration.

2) I urged them to disentangle free trade meaning free imports, from free trade meaning laissez-faire and unlimited individual competition.

3) I warned them that in opposing Imperial Preference, the argument based on the idea that the preference given to our traders in Australia was quite worthless, was rather a dangerous one to maintain.

4) I warned them that the doctrine of exports balancing imports was only true when invisible exports and imports were taken into consideration, and said I was doubtful whether any economists to-day (when there are pools of unemployment in various countries, unstable and artificial exchanges, and politically created loans, reparations, etc.) would be prepared to put his hand upon his heart and say that the current effect of an order for a million pounds placed abroad, would be identical with the same order placed at home.

5) I warned them that free traders must not be indifferent to labour conditions if they wanted to continue to have the support of the majority of the people of this country, and that though I thought tariffs were the wrong way, some consideration ought to be devoted to the question of production under sweated conditions in other lands.

I was purposely controversial but I was hardly prepared for the storm of indignation which I evoked. Every one of my points was very hotly challenged and had there been more time I should have had a torrent of opposition to meet. All the same, one or two of the best men in the meeting afterwards said that though they did not necessarily agree with everything, they thought there was a great deal of truth in what I had said.

Do not trouble to reply to this letter: I thought you would be amused to know how little some of the Manchester free traders have moved with the times.

Yours sincerely,
[blank]

J. Maynard Keynes Esq.,
46, Gordon Square,
W.C.1.

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{1} The End of Laissez-Faire (1926).

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