The Limits of Transparency: Ambiguity and the History of International Finance (Cornell Studies in Money)

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A decade of crises has reminded us of the fragility of the international financial system. Conventional wisdom holds that uncertainty is the basic problem of financial governance, and attempts to contain ambiguity have dominated recent financial reform efforts. Jacqueline Best, however, contends that ambiguity can play a valuable role in international political and economic stability. The stability of the postwar era depended, Best suggests, on a carefully maintained balance between coherence and ambiguity. In her view, the collapse of the Bretton Woods exchange-rate regime was caused in large part by the increasing rigidity of the system and its corresponding inability to accommodate ambiguity.This is a novel argument in an area much discussed by economists and political scientists. Their debate has focused on uncertainty as a technical problem and transparency as the solution. Although such policies are presented as technical, Best demonstrates that they are also political, have cultural consequences, and may prove counterproductive. Rather than assume that transparency is the ultimate goal, Best argues, we must recognize that ambiguity is pervasive, substantive, and potentially constructive. To read this book is to comprehend more deeply the ways in which politics is fundamental to economic theory and practice and to understand why the economy requires political leadership in order to flourish.

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"Who would have thought that we had anything left to learn from yet another history of the Bretton Woods system? Diplomats have long understood that a certain degree of ambiguity can be critical to the successful negotiation and management of international agreements. From that starting point, Jacqueline Best has developed a novel theoretical framework to more fully comprehend the role of ambiguity in international governance. No student of political economy should ignore this thoughtful book, which brings important new insight to the familiar story of international finance since World War II."--Benjamin Jerry Cohen, University of California, Santa Barbara

"The Limits of Transparency is an innovative and enlightening reassessment of contemporary international monetary history. Jacqueline Best's central insight turns much conventional wisdom on its head. This well-written book will appeal to specialists and non-specialists alike, and it will be very useful for students of international relations and international economics."--Louis W. Pauly, Director, Center for International Studies, University of Toronto

"Jacqueline Best's innovative book challenges the contemporary obsession with transparency as the solution to all problems of financial governance. The Limits of Transparency belongs on the shelves of economists, political scientists, sociologists, and finance professionals interested in understanding why recent efforts to reform the international financial system so often aggravate the very problems that they are intended to resolve."-- Ilene Grabel, University of Denver

About the Author:

Jacqueline Best is Assistant Professor of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

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