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Title[Bretton Woods diary, 1944]
Ref NoROBBINS/6/1/2
LevelItem
Date1944
Extent1 folder
DescriptionThis is the diary kept by Lionel Robbins during his time in America in 1944. The diary was intended as a report for War Cabinet and other colleagues back in Britain.

23 June
Describes the views from the ship as they approach port. Says that although he stuck to the rule not to do any record keeping on board ship they did in fact work quite hard, both amongst themselves and with the European delegates on board ship. He reflects on the time aboard ship. Says this was first time he found out that they have been instructed to press for still further modification of the exchange clauses of the fund agreement. He regrets that he was not invited to the treasury meeting which discussed this. Robbins doubts the wisdom of reopening the issue at this stage. He says there will be much trouble with the Indians over the size of their quota in relation to the Chinese. Robbins agrees with the Indians on this and has talked to Raisman about it.
The Treasury 'are now completely sold on the Bank… both Keynes and Eady have completely come round to the view that not only is the project a necessary part of the general financial plan but that cooperation therein offers perhaps the best hope of making a success of the conference'.
Travelled from New York to Atlantic City. Met by Brand in New York Keynes had a meeting with White and they agreed the week-end should be spent on 'Anglo-US elucidations'.

24 June
Morning - meeting of the full committee though it was adjourned almost straight away with reason given being time to draft a new agenda. However Robbins says real reason was to give British and American delegations time to discuss close collaboration and preliminary agreement. Then met with representatives from the Dominions - Canadian, Australian and Indian - so that Keynes could explain changes they intended to propose in regard to the fund. Rasminsky (Canadian) concerned over the exchange clause and his reasons for concern were shared by Dennis Robertson and Robbins but Robbins said these reasons seemed to come as a shock to the rest of the British team.
Afternoon - joint session with the Americans re their views on the Bank. Robbins talks about the greatness of Keynes. Dinner with the Pasvolskys.

25 June
Breakfast with Bernstein who was disturbed by the exchange clause. Robbins says that opponents of the current US administration are doing their best, through the press, to convince the American public that 'they are being made suckers by the clever British - especially the diabolically clever Lord Keynes, who advised President Roosevelt in 1933.'
Lunch - his sister and her husband came over from Philadelphia and they explored the Atlantic City sea front.
After dinner a Commonwealth Committee meeting. Keynes gave details of what he had already discussed with White. The main issue is the quotas. Whereas Robbins view to 'that we should choose a formula and stick to it - save perhaps in the case of Russia'

26 June
Private session with the Americans - White commented on the various British proposals, particularly the exchange clause which he said was totally unacceptable to the Americans. They have agreed to put forward an alternative draft.
Afternoon was spent working through all the amendments that have been submitted which he says was very time consuming and tedious and he thought unnecessary.
In the evening there was disagreement between the British and Americans over the Scarce Currency clause.

27 June
Main committee spent time discussing various clauses in the draft statement and various amendments. He says relations with the Americans are excellent but there is 'an underlying difference of attitude regarding the degree to which commercial considerations should underlie the operations of the Fund.' Another meeting of the UK/US group in the evening when a new clause was agreed which is agreeable to the British delegation.

28 June
He reports that Eady is worried about US ideas for the powers of the Executive Committee - the British are worried that they do not want to invest members of the committee with enough power to make any decisions. The day was spent working on redrafting of clauses regarding provisions of the transition period. After dinner they listened to Governor Dewey accepting Republican nomination for Presidency which Robbins said was very dull. Relations with the US continue well and any matters of difference are not being discussed at present.

29 June
Bernstein informed Keynes that they would accept with one or two minor modifications, most of the Uk proposals re the exchange clause.
In the afternoon they moved from discussing the Fund to discussing the Bank - no major disagreements came up.

30 June
Private meeting in Keynes room with Dominion representatives to discuss quotas. Problems, as expected, with both India and Australia. He concludes that although no definite instrument has been drawn up he thinks the first week has gone well. Expresses worries about the hostility of the press in America and gives his judgement that the financial journalists in American are far behind those in the UK.

1 July - Bretton Woods
Discussing the train journey and the beauty of the surroundings of Bretton Woods. Talks about the high number of people arriving for the conference.
Frist plenary session that evening at which he says nothing of significance happened. Mr Morgenthau voted to the Chair. Dinner in the evening organised by Keynes to celebrate 500th anniversary of the Concordat between King's College, Cambridge and New College, Oxford. Present at this were Keynes, Robbins, Nigel Ronald, Dennis Robertson, Dean Acheson, Oscar Cox, [Kung] His Excellency Leader of the Chinese delegation. Robbins's said this showed Keynes 'at his most charming'.

2 July
Conference between British and the Dominion representatives who weren't at Atlantic City. Special discussion between Keynes and the Indian delegation re sterling balance question - which Robbins said threatens to be a sore point throughout the conference. Discussion between Keynes, Brand and Eady and the Canadian Minister of Finance re position as regards Canadian mutual aid.
Evening was cocktails with the American delegation and then meeting various friends throughout the hotel. Robbins reports on potential problems re British delegation attitude on Article VII and failure of British government to reply to enquiries re setting up a Steering Committee. He says he thinks they American delegation understand the need for reticence but that it's the failure of the British to reply to enquiries and maintain contact that are causing the real problems. He concludes 'I am quite convinced we are playing with fire in this matter. We run a grave risk of arousing widespread suspicion of our good faith just at that moment when, for other reasons, we need that confidence in our good faith should be completely sustained.'

3 July
Started with meeting of the Fund Commission. Robbins praises a speech by Senator Tobey (US Delegation) re importance of setting aside party loyalties.
Afternoon - opening session of Commission II which deals with the BANK. Keynes gave a speech outlining principles and purposes of the World Bank, which Robbins says went down very well with the Americans.
Evening - Eady, Brand and Robbins in long conference with the Dutch re technical matters related to the Bank proposals. Robbins expresses his reservations re conservatism of the conventional banking outlook 'How easy it is for reasonable prudence to degenerate into an unreflecting caution and a pure prejudice against the unusual.'

4 July
Decision to divide into 4 committees to get through the main work on the Fund [IMF?]. 44 nations represented at the meetings and each nation is represented on each committee. Robbins says that now they have broken up into committees it's more difficult to keep in touch with what is going on everywhere else.
Qualifier - 'As these notes are intended only to convey personal impressions rather than a full account of the conference, I shall make no attempt to put down day-by-day even the chief matters that are discussed, reserving my space (and time) for matters which have interested me personally.'
Afternoon - Indian delegation want one of the objects of Fund to be liquidation of abnormal war indebtness. Riasman (India) opened discussion, friendly and moderate. Egypt, not so moderate. Then US, in Golderwieser, said they didn't want to use Fund for this purpose. Robbins backed him up saying HMG didn't regard these debts as appropriate for discussion at the conference.
Dinner with Dr Kung (Chinese delegation).

5 July
Robbins decided that after disagreeing with the Indians yesterday he should lunch with them today. One of them, Mr Shroff, was a contemporary of Robbins' from LSE just after WWI, so he spoke to him about LSE before discussing outstanding Indian questions which Robbins says are very important Keynes has assured them, on authority of the Chancellor, that there is no question of unilateral repudiation, they are still upset by particular articles in London press. The Indian delegation also urged Robbins to support Indians re size of their quota in comparison with Chinese - 600 for China, 300 for India. Robbins says he has already warned as many of the US as he can that there is likely to be trouble on this issue.
Afternoon - quotas discussed at more length. Russians have caused disapproval by stating they will only be happy if they get the same quota as the UK. Robbins expresses his reservations over the Russian delegation - says that their only interest in the Fund is what they can get out of it.
After dinner Brand, Eady, Ronald, and Robbins spent some time discussing wider questions of more immediate financial policy. Talks about British refusal to continue discussions under Article VII as a mistake 'it is a great mistake at home to act as if the facts of our financial position in the transition period were an immense secret. It is quite clear to me that they are not…. The element of top secret in the Treasury paper is, of course, the plan proposed for dealing with this situation.'

6 July
Balance question was raised again when Egyptian delegation put forward a resolution even stronger than that by the Indian delegation. Led to discussion on war indebtness. New problem from the Mexican delegation. They organised a silver blog and want to count silver as part of the quota. Robbins says this unacceptable to British but Americans don't want to put up a strong opposition and instead want to deal with it discreetly but in Committee 2 Dennis Robertson (British) opposed it which according to Robbins made the Mexicans angry.
Evening - Keynes and Robbins went for a drive with Opie. Robbins worried about Keynes health, says he's showing signs of exhaustion. Robbins says everyone is getting tired with the pace of the conference, and with the bad administration by the American's organising it.

7 July
Robbins says they are waiting on consent from London in order to settle the problem of the scarce currency provision in relation to commercial agreements. Good work has been made behind the scenes on exchange clauses. Dennis Robertson and Bernstein continually in talks.
Robbins reports Eady has got in to problems with the Latin American delegations re constitution of the Management Committee.

8 July
Commission I discussed redraft of the Exchange Clauses which had been agreed with the Americans. Says the changes make it possible for a member country to change its exchange rate without permission of the Fund whilst still, subject to certain disciplines, remaining a member. Robbins says that privately he is not very happy about this - danger of making the Fund unacceptable to the American public. 'Whenever we [the British] reach any point where our liberty of action might conceivably be involved, we fight like tigers; and as we are powerful in argument and out opposite numbers in the United States delegation are anxious to take account of our difficulties, we usually get our way. I find this tendency distasteful and I fear it may have a boomerang effect later on.'
Quota question is gradually being settled. Looks like Russian quote going to be raised from 800 to 1,200 million dollars whereas Indian only from 300 to 400 million. However Robbins thinks they will accept it. Keynes exhausted and accepted the Indian delegation while lying out on his couch.

9 July
Not so many meetings today. Robbins reflects on progress so far, says that from a technical point of view they have made considerable progress and that fi the quota business is settled then he thinks the Fund will be more of less sorted by the end of the week. He thinks China and Russia will emerge with quotas out of all relation to their economic status. He thinks they will draw out their quotas straight away therefore Robbins is worried about the shape of the Fund as it does not leave much money for the rest of Europe. However he thinks that creation of the Bank could help address this.
Afternoon - Robbins, Eady, Brand and Robertson discussed strategy of the approach to the American on lend-lease and post-war assistance. R, E, B and R all convinced that there is danger of their negotiations in these areas being prejudiced by British obstinacy in regard to Article VII. Keynes and Ronald are thinking of asking for permission from HMG to open informal discussions but Robbins is not in favour of this as does not think these discussions should take place without the Board of Trade being present. He thinks that until Ministers in UK have made up their minds there isn't much that the delegation can do.
Evening - cocktails with the Russians which led to Robbins having dinner with the leader of the Russian delegation and the Technical Adviser of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.
10 July

Sterling balance problems was sorted today and the Indian resolution lapsed.
Commission II - to deal with 'other financial questions' has commenced. This Commission is to discuss; the future of the Bank of International Settlements; the problem of restitution of enemy-held property; employment policy; monetary use of silver. Robbins says he is avoiding this commission altogether.

11 July
Draft document on the Fund is emerging. Robbins states importance of going through every paragraph and clause and that most of this work is being done by Dennis Robertson 'who, next to Keynes, is the real hero of the Conference so far as our delegation is concerned. If it were not for the friendly understanding between him and Bernstein, I do not know what would have happened to us by now.'
Afternoon - first full session on the Bank - not much happened but work was divided between various ad-hoc committees.
Evening - went for a walk with Goldenweiser (Economic Adviser to the Federal Reserve Board at Washington) who was a friend of Robbins. They talk about relations between British and US delegations and concurred that one of main difficulties was difference in constitutional traditions.

12 July
Continued debate on technicalities. Particularly in formulating clauses relating to capital transfer and multilateral clearing. He says 'we' refers mainly to US and UK, though also the Canadians, as he says no one else has the technical knowledge to discuss these issues. He is critical of the show of the Europeans at the Conference, saying they have not contributed much at all with exception of Dr Keilhau from Norway, and the Belgians.

13 July
Lunch with Baron Boel of the Belgian delegation.
Evening - conversation with Dean Acheson. They had spent a long time that day working together on the Bank Drafting Committee then went for a drink. Acheson revealed concerns over present position on Article VII - Acheson appealed for informal discussions to start between Br and US. Robbins tried to explain that things were now being discussed by Ministers in Britain but due to the war these were taking longer than would usually be expected. Then Acheson started asking about location of the Fund. Americans have been arguing it has to be in US whereas British say this discussion should wait 'until the general nature of the institutions of world government have been further clarified'.

14 July
Work of the Fund going well. Bernstein and Robertson reached agreement on most of the technical questions. Mexicans have backed down on the silver question. Question of quotas still being discussed but Robbins is confident this can be dealt with satisfactorily. Robbins is part of the group which takes over the resolutions from the various committees and tries to put them in to more order. They are working on drafting the Bank Statutes.

July 15
News that the Americans and Russians have reached agreement on outstanding matters re the Fund - this includes agreement of 1200 quota for the Russians. Robbins says it is easy to see that the Russians 'have won hands down'.
A special committee, including Robbins, met to discuss the list of quotas. Robbins says everyone knew this was really a fait accompli and that although size of Russian and Chinese quotas seemed absurd to many, him included, it was accepted 'what has been conceded for reasons of pure politics is not likely to be withdrawn for reasons of pure economics. So with a rather bitter taste in the mouth, the committee accepted the inevitable.'
Results presented to whole conference in afternoon. Many protests. 'I must confess I have never felt greater distaste for anything I have had to do in Government service. But it went off quite well. The list was accepted without further debate.

July 16
Atmosphere more relaxed after yesterday's excitement over the quotas.
Morning - commission meeting on the Bank - everything going quite well.
Afternoon and evening - Robbins spent drafting bank statutes which he says is very time consuming and unless the conference is prolonged there isn't much chance of doing a satisfactory job.
Cocktails with the Canadians in the evening.

July 17
Last night decision was made to prolong conference until the end of the week so today was more restful. Robbins says this was much needed by British delegation, some of whom had been working till 3am every night for the past week.
Midday conference with Healer and Helmore re Export White Paper negotiations. Robbins says he is glad London is now considering the issue of regulation of exports. Robbins thinks that they [the British] need to revise the decision not to publish export figures. He says that in the US the general public are totally unaware of the extent to which the UK has sacrificed their export trade during the war. This means they're fighting against public opinion. He says publishing these figures would help them in putting forward their arguments for export drive and lend lease.
Evening party held by Senator Tobey only for US and UK delegates.

July 18
Robbins expresses surprise on hearing that Whitehall isn't taking seriously criticisms of a recent speech by the Minister of Production. He says important people in the US have been very upset by this talk.
He says they are nearing the end, only major outstanding issues is size of the Bank subscriptions.

July 19
Disagreements on Commission III regarding the B.I.S [?]. Sorted out by the end of the meeting though. He reports conflicting telegrams have been arriving from London re whether or not they can talk about commodities and Article VII. He reiterates that he would rather not do so until Ministers in Whitehall have come to a decision and/or a representative of the Board of Trade is present.

July 20
Plenary session to wind up the Fund. Judge Vinson gave a stirring speech, after which most countries that had entered reservations either withdrew them completely or conceded to them being only in the minutes rather than in the Final Act.
Last meeting of the Bank Commission.
Telegram from the Minister of State arrived saying to tell the US they can't do anything right now re Article VII but that talks on this can resume in the Autumn. Robbins says he is glad about this and also that he is more convinced than ever of the importance of the other talks under consideration. Robbins feels that in the US view Article VII and Lend-lease are intricately connected. He says British shouldn't formulate policy re long-term commercial arrangements without knowing how the US will react to UK proposals for dealing with short-term financial situation. This is why he feels further conversations on this are important, as soon as possible.

July 21
Final plenary on the Bank. Russians got what they wanted out of it (a lower rate of subscription) by the raising of contributions of other countries. Robbins says this caused icy silences all round.

July 22
Final plenary on everything. At the last minute the Russians received permission to raise their subscriptions which meant that everything ended on a happy note, with everyone once again back on good terms with the Russians. 'So in the end everything had ended in a blaze of optimism and friendly feeling… At the end Keynes capped the proceedings by one of his most felicitous speeches, and the delegates paid tribute by rising and applauding again and again. In a way, this is one of the greatest triumphs of his life.'

Next section is marked 'Secret'
July 24 to 27
Left Bretton Woods and travelled to New York. Then Robbins and Robertson when to Philadelphia where they spent time relaxing and catching up on sleep.

July 28
Back to Washington. Robbins says that him and Robertson had expected the oil conversations to be over by the time they reached Washington however the opposite appears to be the case and Robbins is worried about a possible impending crisis. Previous agreements re inserting an amendment in the Memorandum of Agreement, which Robbins had assumed were final have now protested against this and so far any attempts to reconcile have not worked.
Brand and Lee are very disturbed by this. However the Americans want to reach an agreement as the oil lobby is very strong so Robbins and Robertson were called into consultation. Robbins reports that they both feel that it's not essential that an amendment is written in to the agreement but that there needs to be some statement protesting the British position written into the agreed minutes.
In the afternoon the Minister of State sent for Robbins to get his opinion. Robbins feels it's important the British don't give way on this issue. He feels it is not only the direct amount of foreign exchange which might be involved which was at issue. He says that 'in order that we could get some kind of external equilibrium, it was necessary not merely that our markets should be as they were before, but that they should be considerably altered.'
Heatwave in Washington.

July 29
Lunch with Dean Acheson - not much of important discussed.
Afternoon - visited the Embassy to see Sir Ronald Campbell where they discussed Bretton Woods, Stage II, and oil. Campbell is as worried as the Minister about the oil amendment.
Lee, Dennis and Robbins visited Maurice Hutton as, due to an accident, he was not going to be present at talks on commodity policy and they wanted to get his opinion. Hutton wasn't optimistic.

July 30
Lazy morning. Afternoon visit to the Mellon Gallery but was too tired to really enjoy his favourite impressionist paintings. In the evening he ate with Gilbert Walker and his wife.

July 31
Talk on commodities today which was 'useful but not exciting'. He concludes that 'in the absence of adequate safeguards against the abuses of commodity agreements, I am pretty sure that our interest would be better served by an interregnum of laissez faire - second best though that would be.' He says that the lack of cooperation between the Missions and the State Department has been unfortunate.
Oil position remains tense. Keynes and Eady agree with Robbins and Robertson that the exchange clause is very important. Oil men on US delegation are insistent that British attempts to safeguard their exchange position are incompatible with the whole agreement.
Evening - Robertson and Robbins diner with Opie and Pavolsky's. After dinner Pavolsky talked about success of Bretton Woods discussions on money and said they should have a similar conference on commercial policy in the near future. The US feels that the success of the monetary proposals will be heightened if linked to commercial policy. They talked about length of the transition period after the war, and worries from the US general public that this transition period was planned to go on for too long. The British didn't want to set a fixed limit on the length of the transition period and Robbins explained the reasons for this to Pavolsky.
Robbins is going to join Opie in visiting New York on Wednesday to gauge banking opinion on the results of Bretton Woods.

August 1
Oil position still unsettled with no agreement reached.
Lunch with Fritz Machlup and Edward Mason where they discussed Bretton Woods and Wall Street.
Afternoon - oil discussions became very heated. Following the discussions Robbins and Lee were asked to join the British delegation meeting to discuss what was to be done next. Robbins recounts the discussion over 2 and half pages. The outcome was that Robbins was to go and meet with his friend Hawkins, from the American delegation, to try and find out if there was some kind of misunderstanding on the American's side re the amendment requested by the British.
Trip to New York cancelled.
Dinner with law and Assheton.

August 2
Robbins went to meet Hawkins at the State Department where Robbins explained he wasn't officially connected to the oil delegation but had been drafted in by Lord Beaverbrook because the points of contention were seen to be closely connected to broader economic policy issues which Robbins had dealt with at Bretton Woods. Three pages follow detailing the discussion between Robbins and Hawkins, who was joined at some part in the discussions by Raynor (Secretary of the State Department Oil Committee). The result was a draft drawn up by the Americans which Robbins described as 'almost half way home'. Robbins then went back to meet with Lord Beaverbrook. No decision was made.

August 3
Robbins and Lee asked to go to the State Department where they met Mr Raynor who gave them a new version of the draft with amendments which Robbins judged to be improvements. Robbins and Lee returned with this to Lord Beaverbrook who agreed with Robbins judgement. A telegram was worded and sent to London asking for approval to sign the document.
Access StatusOpen
Former Reference NumberROBBINS/131
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