Benn Steil, the director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of the forthcoming “The Battle of Bretton Woods.”
PRESIDENT OBAMA recently nominated Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth, to be the next president of the World Bank — a privilege accorded to the United States since the bank’s founding in 1946. A European, in turn, gets to run the International Monetary Fund.
In the wake of World War II, such a divvying up of the top spots among the great powers was inevitable. But how did the United States, the primary founder and financer of the two institutions, wind up taking the helm of the World Bank, and not the I.M.F., which was of vastly greater importance to its government?
In fact, that was the original goal of Harry Dexter White, the Treasury Department’s key representative at the Bretton Woods conference of July 1944, where the two institutions were created. The I.M.F. was central to White’s vision of a postwar global financial architecture dominated by the American dollar....