Prophesying upon the Bones: J. Reuben Clark and the Foreign Debt Crisis, 1933-39

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Prophesying upon the Bones: J. Reuben Clark and the Foreign Debt Crisis, 1933-39
Author Gene A. Sessions
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992

Prophesying upon the Bones: J. Reuben Clark and the Foreign Debt Crisis, 1933-39

Reviewer Brent D. Wilson

During the 1920s, foreign governments tapped the U.S. capital markets by selling bonds to individual investors. However, as these governments encountered financial difficulties, they found it easy to forgo payments to the U.S. bondholders. Responding to the resulting outcry from the private investors, the U.S. government formed the Foreign Bondholders Protective Council in 1933. This quasi-governmental group was authorized to negotiate directly with foreign governments to seek redress for the bondholders. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., served as the president of the FBPC almost from its inception until he resigned in 1939.

Sessions describes this period as perhaps Clark's primary public service accomplishment. Focusing on the administrative structuring of the council, Sessions relates how Clark imbued it with his ideals of honesty, trust, commitment, and honor. During this same period, Clark was also serving in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sessions draws parallels between Clark's public policy and negotiating positions and his religious beliefs and values. Although the book lacks details about the actual negotiations, we learn that Clark was able to obtain relief from several countries. He was also successful in defending the council from its public and private critics. Prophesying upon the Bones is weakest in its comparison of the 1930s bond defaults to the current developing country debt crisis. Sessions' attempts to "probe deeply into the mindset" of Clark are also subject to challenge. Nevertheless, the book provides insights into a little-known aspect of Clark's public career.
 

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