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A Post-COVID-19 Digital Bretton Woods

When world leaders came together in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944, they laid the foundation for a model of global governance that would last for more than 70 years. To manage the far-reaching implications of digital technology and hyper-globalization, we must now pick up where they left off.

WATERLOO, CANADA – The global COVID-19 pandemic has turned the once unthinkable into legislation. Governments are underwriting business and health care, and regulating personal behavior, in unprecedented ways. The world’s primary multilateral financial institutions – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – are being asked to throw away their rulebooks to save the world’s imperiled developing economies.

But when the pandemic passes, a fiscal reckoning in some form will be essential. After all, the bill for the pandemic will one day fall due, and governments will need to be far more certain than they are today that businesses and individuals will be able to pay their fair share of tax. This will occur in a global-governance environment that was already changing radically, owing to the impact of digital technologies.

Long before the pandemic, there was a growing need to rethink global institutions for a world of intangibles. Now, that process is being accelerated, and will soon usher in a period in which the Bretton Woods institutions, the pillars of global governance since World War II, will be judged and most likely reinvented.