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The Monetary Conservative: Jacques Rueff and Twentieth-century Free Market Thought [Hardcover]

Christopher S. Chivvis
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

30 April 2010
First major English work on the proponent of the gold standard provides a view of the global economy that resonates with current thought. One of the 20th century's most prescient critics of the role of the U.S. dollar in the global economy, Jacques Rueff (1896-1978) was also one of Europe's foremost free market thinkers, a proponent of the gold standard, and a major expert on the perils of inflation. In Rueff's day, moderate conservatism was linked with liberal political economy, and Rueff considered himself a 'liberal' in the sense that he believed in the free market. This first major English-language work on Rueff explains his economic philosophy and its significance for the present, placing it in the context of the Great Depression and Europe's post-World War II recovery. Chivvis presents a new angle on the history of free market ideas and their alternatives, illuminating a conservative strain of free market thought hitherto much ignored. Rueff's thought remains highly relevant in the current economic climate, and "The Monetary Conservative" will be of broad interest to policymakers and educated lay readers. It is also essential reading for economists, political economists, and historians of neoliberalism, France, and modern European politics.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Northern Illinois University Press (30 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875804179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875804170
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,318,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Chivvis has written an interesting and clear account of the major elements in the thought of the French economist and civil servant Jacques Rueff." - Harold James, Princeton University"

About the Author

CHRISTOPHER S. CHIVVIS is a political scientist with the RAND Corporation and teaches International History at the Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bookish intellectual biography 24 July 2010
Format:Hardcover
The author has probably read most of Rueff's technical works. This makes for a competent description of Rueff's economic thought in its own right. But one would hardly read Rueff for his monetarist thoughts nowadays - his contributions are no longer original, if they ever were. One would read him for his political economy - his ability to read the country's needs and suggest a way forward. The author has only a limited understanding of the history of modern France, however, or he would not equate De Gaulle and Pétain as "conservative leaders" (pg. 88). His grasp of European integration is also limited, proof the tangential way he treats this subject (for a better take see the first part of The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-first Century). The intellectual biography, as competent as it is on such limited merits, fails to explain why Rueff in the end failed on many fronts.

A product of the French elite system, Rueff took the orthodox view that "to exist an entity must display some enduring orderliness" (pg. 180). He thought that monetary stability would provide such order, and his whole life he fought to secure it. The markets and democracy, he thought, depended on it. Inflation he viewed as the source of all evils, as well as structural rigidities - by which he meant mainly rigidities in the labour markets (unions, the dole).

Alas, a typical elite product, Rueff never left Paris to understand the workings of the real French economy.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Prism Illuminating the Deceptions of Current Economic Debate 2 Feb 2011
By Richard H. Troy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For those concerned with the currently looming currency and trade wars, this is a most relevant read. While focused on the work of Jacques Rueff, this book serves to illuminate the broader perspective: (A) The political economist's fundamental focus on establishing a stable social order, rather than on the intermediate financial metrics of which cable TV shows are made; (B) The degree to which moralistic fervor has, from time to time, infected economic theory; (C) The degree to which political economists fall in love with theory, passionately disagree on theory, and, upon happy occasion, agree to adjust theory to reality; (D) The poverty of our current political discourse on matters affecting taxation, debt, trade, employment, and other economic metrics; (E) The association of specific historic developments (industrial revolution; Gilded Age; govt. intrusion by way of anti-trust, tax, etc.; rise of fascism and communism) with the development and modification of theory; (F) The degree to which current political discourse misuses references to theory, whether Keynesian or otherwise; (G) Further insight into use of U.S. economic power post-WWII in an environment where nuclear power was of little practical use; (H)The relevance of historic debate to present realties. Otherwise put, this work serves as a prism to highlight the deceptive nature and purpose of our own current political/economic discourse.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making European and Economic history accessible 7 Dec 2010
By DC reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm not a historian or economist, but I enjoy historical biographies. I received this book as a gift, and I found it highly engaging and useful. Chivvis shines a light on key precepts underlying the international economic system today, and I was struck by how the critical, thoughtful manner in which the author treats his subject. It's clear Chivvis has spent much time thinking about Rueff, and I'm glad this book is out there. It's not a Saturday afternoon casual read, but it's a worthy book for those interested in economic history or 20th century intellectual history. I would recommend it.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bookish intellectual biography 24 July 2010
By Sceptique500 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The author has probably read most of Rueff's technical works. This makes for a competent description of Rueff's economic thought in its own right. But one would hardly read Rueff for his monetarist thoughts nowadays - his contributions are no longer original, if they ever were. One would read him for his political economy - his ability to read the country's needs and suggest a way forward. The author has only a limited understanding of the history of modern France, however, or he would not equate De Gaulle and Pétain as "conservative leaders" (pg. 88). His grasp of European integration is also limited, proof the tangential way he treats this subject (for a better take see the first part of The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century). The intellectual biography, as competent as it is on such limited merits, fails to explain why Rueff in the end failed on many fronts.

A product of the French elite system, Rueff took the orthodox view that "to exist an entity must display some enduring orderliness" (pg. 180). He thought that monetary stability would provide such order, and his whole life he fought to secure it. The markets and democracy, he thought, depended on it. Inflation he viewed as the source of all evils, as well as structural rigidities - by which he meant mainly rigidities in the labour markets (unions, the dole).

Alas, a typical elite product, Rueff never left Paris to understand the workings of the real French economy. Had he done so, rather than study statistical aggregates, and compared his findings with the situation in other countries, he would have understood that the French industrial structures were hopelessly out of date and that the entrepreneurial spirit was sorely lacking. Rigidities there were, but they were nestled in paternalistic, hexagonal and pantoufflard management and an obtuse rentier class just as much as in labour unions - or maybe put another way: they deserved each other. Britain was no better, by the way (see: The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain As a Great Nation) - as Keynes knew. The "planners" whom Rueff (and the author) berates were people in a hurry. They could not wait for an entrepreneurial spirit to appear, and tried to force-feed modernisation. Had Rueff better understood the French industrial reality, he would have been more tolerant of the dirigisme of his fellow polytechniciens.

Rueff felt the need for order deeply - but which order? He soon understood - and this differentiates him from libertarian economists à la Hayek - that the distribution of property rights was a historical accident and could in no way make any claim to being `just', i.e. socially legitimate. Given furthermore the tendency of market systems to concentrate wealth in fewer hands (the Gini coefficient of China and the US have grown similar nowadays) he might have worried that the unfettered working of the market system would undermine democracy in no less surreptitious ways than inflation. (And, I'm sure, he would have been horrified by the unbridled corruption that has followed market liberalisation in countries like France.) This put him close to the ordo-liberals like Röpke and their soziale Marktwirtschaft. To label him "monetary conservative" would seem unjust to me.

Rueff's quest for understanding the emergence of order also led him into novel areas - the "Promethean foundation of the market order", which is the subject of his last major work. Far ahead of his time, Rueff was nibbling here at emerging complex systems. Regretfully Mr. Chivvis seems to be ignorant of the extensive economic literature that has since emerged in this area and would have put Rueff's thought in a clearer context.

At the end Mr. Chivvis seems to want to pass judgement on the ideas of Mr. Rueff. This is a hopeless undertaking, given the extent of contingency that accompanies any economic policy. If there I were to draw a lesson from Mr. Rueff's experience is the need to understand reality and its complexity, rather than search for the mythical 'order' on which to base economic policy.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting 21 July 2010
By Francie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Christopher Chivvis has done a masterful job of bringing to light the work of a little known French economist, Jacques Reuff, showing the value of classical "liberal" economic policy for current monetary problems.
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