“Miss Multiple Exchange Rates herself”: Margaret de Vries as an international economic thinker and historian (1946–1987)
At a time when the immensely talented Eleanor Dulles was being humiliated by her US State Department ‘colleagues’ and most women working for international organisations were still relegated to supposedly lesser duties as librarians and typists, during the 1950s, Margaret Garritsen de Vries (1922–2009) steadily carved a place for herself at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A representative case of a middle-level economic thinker, De Vries was an American economist trained by the father of the neoclassical synthesis, Paul Samuelson. Having joined the IMF right after its foundation, De Vries became in the 1950s one of the IMF’s key specialists in multiple currency practices, participating in the process in several IMF missions to Central European, Middle East, and Asian countries. In 1957, De Vries further broke ground came the IMF’s first division chief, but as so many of her contemporaries, likewise employed married women, she left the Fund one year afterwards to care for her children. Strikingly, however, De Vries returned to the IMF in the 1960s and began a new career as one of its first in-house, official historians.
In contrast with the more biographical approach employed by other studies of De Vries’ life (Laskaridis, 2022), this project focuses more closely on De Vries’ policy and historical work at the IMF. It re-establishes de Vries’ place as a relevant monetary thinker of the 1950s by charting and contextualising her contributions to defining IMF policy on the multiple currency practices that were then widespread amongst developing countries, at the heyday of Prebisch-inspired import substitution policies. Afterwards, the project examines De Vries’ pioneering historical work, which encompassed the first systematic historical narrative of IMF policy during the 1970s stagflation (De Vries, 1986). Specifically, I am interested in how, retrospectively, de Vries conceived of her role as an IMF historian, as well about her veiled critique of IMF policy as overly orthodox, which went hand-in-hand with her leaving unquestioned the validity of mainstream neoclassical synthesis economics.
Located under ECOINT’s streams ‘Use of economic theory’ and ‘Experts’, the project argues that De Vries’ intellectual and professional trajectory offers a staple example of how mainstream Keynesian economics permeated the middle-level ranks of the anonymous secretariats of post-1945 international organisations. If the work undertaken by De Vries and her colleagues constituted a step toward the progressive crystallisation of the IMF policy-set towards developing countries, scrutinising her work also allows us to uncover a historical moment when the IMF staff’s appreciation of developing countries’ troubles was often more alert to empirical realities than was the case from the 1970s onwards.
DE VRIES, Margaret. The International Monetary Fund, 1972–1978: Cooperation on Trial (3 vols.). Washington D.C.: IMF, 1986.
LASKARIDIS, Christina. ‘“Writing History as a Way of Life”: The Life and Work of Margaret Marie Garritsen de Vries.’ History of Political Economy 54:6 (2022) 1137–1167.