I am gratified to announce that the Conference at Bretton Woods has completed successfully the task before it.
It was, as we knew when we began, a difficult task, involving complicated technical problems. We came to work out methods which would do away with the economic evils-the competitive currency devaluation and destructive impediments to trade-which preceded the present war. We have succeeded in that effort.
The actual details of a financial and monetary agreement may seem mysterious to the general public. Yet at the heart of it lie the most elementary bread and butter realities of daily life. What we have done here in Bretton Woods is to devise machinery by which men and women everywhere can exchange freely, on a fair and stable basis, the goods which they produce through fair labor. And we have taken the initial step through which the nations of the world will be able to help one another in economic development to their mutual advantage and for the enrichment of all.
The representatives of the forty-five nations faced differences of opinion frankly, and reached an agreement which is rooted in genuine understanding. None of the nations represented here has had altogether its own way. We have had to yield to one another not in respect to principles or essentials but in respect to methods and procedural details. The fact that we have done it in a spirit of good will and mutual trust, is, I believe, one of the hopeful and heartening portents of our time. Here is a sign blazoned upon the horizon, written large upon the threshold of the future-a sign for men in battle, for men at work in mines, and mills, and in the fields, and a sign for women whose hearts have been burdened and anxious lest the cancer of war assail yet another generation-a sign that the people of the earth are learning how to join hands and work in unity.
There is a curious notion that the protection of national interest and development of international cooperation are conflicting philosophies-that somehow or other men of different nations cannot work together without sacrificing the interests of their particular nation. There has been talk of this sort-and
from people who ought to know better-concerning the international cooperative nature of the undertaking just completed at Bretton Woods. I am perfectly certain that no delegation to this Conference has lost sight for a moment of the particular national interest it was sent here to represent. The American delegation which I have the honor of leading has been, at all times, conscious of its primary obligation-the protection of American interests. And the other representatives here have been no less loyal or devoted to the welfare of their own people.
Yet none of us has found any incompatibility between devotion to our own country and joint action. Indeed, we have found on the contrary that the only genuine safeguard for our national interests lies in international cooperation. We have to recognize that the wisest and most effective way to protect our national interests is through international cooperation-that is to say, through united effort for the attainment of common goals. This has been the great lesson taught by the war, and is, I think, the great lesson of contemporary life-that the people of the earth are inseparably linked to one another by a deep, underlying community of purpose. This community of purpose is no less real and vital in peace than in war, and cooperation is no less essential to its fulfillment.
To seek the achievement of our aims separately through the planless, senseless rivalry that divided us in the past, or through the outright economic aggression which turned neighbors into enemies would be to invite ruin again upon us all. Worse, it would be once more to start our steps irretraceably down the steep, disastrous road to war. That sort of extreme nationalism belongs to an era that is dead.
Today the only enlightened form of national self-interest lies in international accord. At Bretton Woods we have taken practical steps toward putting this lesson into practice in monetary and economic fields.
I take it as an axiom that this war is ended; no people-therefore no government of the people-will again tolerate prolonged or wide-spread unemployment. A revival of international trade is indispensable if full employment is to be achieved in a peaceful world and with standards of living which will permit the realization of man's reasonable hopes.
What are the fundamental conditions under which the commerce among nations can once more flourish?
First, there must be a reasonable stable standard of international exchange to which all countries can adhere without sacrificing the freedom of action necessary to meet their internal economic problems.
This is the alternative to the desperate tactics of the past-competitive currency depreciation, excessive tariff barriers, uneconomic barter deals, multiple currency practices, and unnecessary exchange restrictions-by which governments vainly sought to maintain employment and uphold living standards. In the final analysis, these tactics only succeeded in contributing to world-wide depression and even war. The International Monetary Fund agreed upon at Bretton Woods will help remedy this situation.
Second, long-term financial aid must be made available at reasonable rates to those countries whose industry and agriculture have been destroyed by the ruthless torch of an invader or by the heroic scorched earth policy of their defenders.
Long-term funds must be made available also to promote sound industry and increase industrial and agricultural production in nations whose economic potentialities have not yet been developed. It is essential to us all that these nations play their full part in the exchange of goods throughout the world.
They must be enabled to produce and to sell if they are to be able to purchase and consume. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development is designed to meet this need.
Objections to this Bank have been raised by some bankers and a few economists. The institution proposed by the Bretton Woods Conference would indeed limit the control which certain private bankers have in the past exercised over international finance. It would by no means restrict the investment sphere in which bankers could engage. On the contrary, it would expand greatly this sphere by enlarging the volume of international investment and would act as an enormously effective stabilizer and guarantor of loans which they might make. The chief purpose of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development is to guarantee private loans made through the usual investment channels. It would make loans only when these could not be floated through the normal channels at reasonable rates. The effect would be to provide capital for those who need it at lower interest rates than in the past, and to drive only the usurious money lenders from the temple of international finance. For my own part, I cannot look upon the outcome with any sense of
dismay. Capital, like any other commodity, should be free from monopoly control and available upon reasonable terms to those who would put it to use for the general welfare.
The delegates and technical staff at Bretton Woods have completed their portion of their job. They have sat down together and talked as friends, and have perfected plans to cope with the international monetary and financial problems which all their countries face in common. These proposals now must be submitted to the legislatures and the peoples of the participating nations. They will pass upon what has been accomplished here.
The results will be of vital importance to everyone in every country. In the last analysis, it will help determine whether or not people will have jobs and the amount of money they are to find in their weekly pay envelope. More important still, it concerns the kind of world in which our children are to grow to maturity. It concerns the opportunities which will await millions of young men when at last they can take off their uniforms and can come home to civilian jobs.
This monetary agreement is but one step, of course, in the broad program of international action necessary for the shaping of a free future. But it is an indispensable step in the vital test of our intentions. We are at a crossroad, and we must go one way or the other. The Conference at Bretton Woods has erected a signpost-signpost pointing down a highway broad enough for all men to walk in step and side by side. If they will set out together, there is nothing on earth that need stop them.