The Adjustment Mechanism

105 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2004

See all articles by Maurice Obstfeld

Maurice Obstfeld

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: December 1991

Abstract

This paper studies the mechanisms of international payments adjustment at work under the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, 1945 to 1971. I argue that two market failures, imperfect international capital mobility and imperfect wage-price flexibility, are central to understanding the adjustment problems of that period. Imperfect capital mobility implied that even intertemporally solvent governments could face international liquidity constraints. Wage-price inflexibility implied that countries suffering from simultaneous reserve loss and unemployment might need to undergo lengthy transitions before returning to balance. By the 1960s, when trade had been substantially liberalized and partial convertibility restored, the main remaining adjustment weapon was currency realignment: devaluation could eliminate an unemployment-cum-deficit dilemma in a stroke, while revaluation could relieve the inflationary pressures in surplus countries. The currency-realignment option proved incompatible with the growing efficiency of the international capital market, however. Under the classical gold standard, high capital mobility had supported the credibility of fixed exchange rates. Under Bretton Woods fixed gold parities did not have primacy among other economic objectives; and increasing capital mobility undermined the regime as governments proved unwilling to stand by key systemic commitments.

Suggested Citation

Obstfeld, Maurice, The Adjustment Mechanism (December 1991). NBER Working Paper No. w3943. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=227368

Maurice Obstfeld (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

549 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
United States
510-643-9646 (Phone)
510-642-6615 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/obstfeld/

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
33
Abstract Views
834
PlumX Metrics