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History lessons for financial crisis: Act fast, act globally

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The storied 1944 Bretton Woods conference – where some 700 delegates from 44 nations gathered at a hotel in New Hampshire – was a bold move to create the first negotiated monetary system among industrial states. The World Bank and the 185-nation International Monetary Fund emerged from that pact. The IMF has become a major source of loans for developing nations in financial trouble.

The legacy of Bretton Woods, said Mr. Zoellick in a speech this week, was that the crisis of a ravaged world created a commitment to remake institutions, to "turn the problems of an era into an opportunity."

In the past week, European nations have begun to coordinate their responses to the crisis, after initially being unwilling, or unable, to do so. The two-day meeting in Brussels, ending Thursday, is intended to solidify new measures in the wake of bank failures and credit crises from Iceland to Germany that brought near panic.

"Mechanisms for cross-border cooperation in Europe exist but they are incomplete," argued Mr. Mandelson, who joined Brown's Cabinet this week. "Internationally, the problem is even more acute...." he says, since coordinating systems are "outdated," with huge stakeholders like China not tied firmly enough into the economic order. "It is 64 years since the Bretton Woods conference put in place the basic machinery.... It is time for a Bretton Woods for this century," he wrote on Oct. 3 in The Guardian, a British newspaper.

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