October 14, 2022

Jamie Martin

Harvard Book Store and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics welcome JAMIE MARTIN, Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Social Studies at Harvard University, for a discussion of his new book The Meddlers: Sovereignty, Empire, and the Birth of Global Economic Governance. He is joined in conversation by QUINN SLOBODIAN, historian and Associate Professor of History at Wellesley College.


International economic institutions like the IMF and World Bank exert incredible influence over the domestic policies of many states. These institutions date from the end of World War II and amassed power during the neoliberal era of the late twentieth century. But as Jamie Martin shows, if we want to understand their deeper origins and the ideas and dynamics that shaped their controversial powers, we must turn back to the explosive political struggles that attended the birth of global economic governance in the early twentieth century.

The Meddlers tells the story of the first international institutions to govern the world economy, including the League of Nations and Bank for International Settlements, created after World War I. These institutions endowed civil servants, bankers, and colonial authorities from Europe and the United States with extraordinary powers: to enforce austerity, coordinate the policies of independent central banks, oversee development programs, and regulate commodity prices. In a highly unequal world, they faced a new political challenge: was it possible to reach into sovereign states and empires to intervene in domestic economic policies without generating a backlash?

Martin follows the intense political conflicts provoked by the earliest international efforts to govern capitalism―from Weimar Germany to the Balkans, Nationalist China to colonial Malaya, and the Chilean desert to Wall Street. The Meddlers shows how the fraught problems of sovereignty and democracy posed by institutions like the IMF are not unique to late twentieth-century globalization, but instead first emerged during an earlier period of imperial competition, world war, and economic crisis.

About Author(s)

Jamie Martin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Social Studies at Harvard University. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, London Review of Books, The Nation, and Bookforum.

Quinn Slobodian is Associate Professor of History at Wellesley College. He is an historian of modern German and international history and the author of Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany, the editor of Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World, and is co-editing a volume on neoliberalism with Dieter Plehwe and Philip Mirowski. He also comments on current events and has recent bylines in the New York Times, the New Statesman and the Baffler.