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Why has gold persisted as a significant reserve asset despite momentous changes in international monetary relations since the collapse of the classical gold standard? IPE theories have little to say about this question. Conventional accounts of international monetary relations depict a succession of discrete monetary regimes characterized by specific power structures or dominant ideas. To explain the continuous importance of gold, we draw on insights from social psychology and new materialist theories. We argue that international monetary relations should be understood as a complex assemblage of material artifacts, institutions, ideas, and practices. For much of its history, this assemblage revolved around the pivotal practice of referencing money to gold. The centrality of gold as experienced by policymakers had important effects. Using archival and other evidence, we document these effects from the 1944 Bretton Woods conference through the transition to floating exchange rates in the mid-1970s; most IPE scholars underestimate the role of gold during this period. Power relations and economic ideas were obviously important, but they contributed little to a fundamental development: the long process of reluctantly coming to terms with the limitations of specie-backed currency, and the progressive and still ongoing decentering of gold in international monetary relations.
The EU crises of the 2010s blindsided Europe’s political leaders and highlighted the EU’s shortcomings and deep unpopularity. By politicizing the EU, the crises threw into disarray the normally rather depoliticized, technocratic environment of EU policymaking. There is now a consensus among scholars that European integration has become increasingly politicized.1 However politicization is defined and measured, the Eurozone crisis has finally driven home the fact that decisions made at the EU level are not merely technical and that they have major political repercussions. Yet this intense politicization may appear dangerous for the EU, insofar as the European Union embodies “a system of multi-level governance which facilitates social interaction across national boundaries, increases immigration and undermines national sovereignty.”2 As politicization engages touchy issues of national sovereignty, anti-EU backlashes become more likely. And indeed, in view of increasingly strident conflict, observers often diagnosed near-paralysis and even a danger of outright collapse for the European Union. The politicization of the Eurozone crisis seemed especially threatening because it reflected deep conflicts among Member States.3 The increasing recourse to a rhetoric of sovereignty manifested sharply divergent state goals. The states in need of EU financing claimed a sovereign right to decide on their economic policies, whereas creditor states and EU officials have insisted that loan recipients should accept temporary limitations to their sovereignty as the price to pay for better Eurozone governance.
In accounting for the endurance of dysfunctional institutions, scholars often highlight the importance of path dependence or incremental change. Yet this fails to capture the creativity that actors deploy to reproduce order, particularly in times of crisis. We propose the concept of dynamic order, rooted in pragmatist theory, as an alternative way to think about institutional durability. Powerful actors reproduce order through creative adjustments to rules and routines that channel action into predictable and controllable behavior. We illustrate this dynamic with examples from the European Union and the United States. In response to the crisis of the Eurozone, EU and state officials invented new procedures that strengthened European governance at the very moment many questioned whether the euro could survive. Likewise, in the United States, public officials responded to social movements and street protests against racism and police brutality by creatively channeling these grievances into judicial proceedings and procedures controlled by the state. By focusing on how elite actors regenerate order in times of crises, our analysis enhances the conceptual toolkit currently available to the scholars of institutions.
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