At loggerheads: John Maynard Keynes (right) and Harry Dexter White
In Washington Lord Halifax
Once whispered to Lord Keynes
It's true they have the moneybags
But we have all the brains.
This piece of doggerel refers to the lengthy and often acrimonious Anglo-American negotiations, in which Keynes was a central figure, over how Britain was to pay for the huge debts it had incurred in fighting the Second World War. Unfortunately for the British, intellectual superiority was not enough.
In 1941 the US agreed, through the Lend-Lease Act, to supply military equipment to Britain. This was described by Winston Churchill as "the most unsordid act in the whole of recorded history", but the strings attached to the agreement, including the forced sale of British assets in the US, were onerous, and bitterly resented by Keynes.
As became clear during the Lend-Lease talks and at the Bretton Woods monetary conference in 1944, there was an almost unbridgeable gulf between the two sides, not just on the terms of any US loan but also on two much bigger issues of vital importance to Britain: the future of the empire and the future of sterling.