International Finance

39 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2004 Last revised: 4 Apr 2015

See all articles by Maurice Obstfeld

Maurice Obstfeld

University of California, Berkeley; Peterson Institute for International Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research; Centre for Economic Policy Research

Date Written: November 1986


This essay written for The New Palgrave dictionary of Ecnomics provides a selective and interpretive account of the development of thought on international financial questions. Attention is focused on the process of international adjustment and on the proper definition of external balance. Since the first descriptions of the price-specie-flow mechanism in Humes time, the definition of external balance has evolved in response to changes in the world economy's structure. The foreign reserve constraint so central under the gold standard or in the early Bretton Woods years is less important under conditions of high international capital mobility. Increasingly, the current account and the national intertemporal budget constraint are emphasized in discussions of international adjustment. In analogy with the idea of a high-employment government budget surplus, a working definition of external balance might be a current account that maintains the highest possible steady consumption level consistent with the economy's expected intertemporal budget constraint. Intertemporal approaches to external balance become more difficult to apply when countries face credit rationing as a result of nonrepayment risk.

Suggested Citation

Obstfeld, Maurice, International Finance (November 1986). NBER Working Paper No. w2077, Available at SSRN:

Maurice Obstfeld (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

530 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States


Peterson Institute for International Economics ( email )

1750 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research ( email )

United Kingdom

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