FOR the fifth time in 18 months, the finely balanced monetary system that is the foundation of Western commerce tumbled into chaos. The crisis threatened to paralyze the system of fixed-exchange rates that has been fostering a rapid growth of trade, tourism and general prosperity. For the moment, world leaders seemed powerless to devise a lasting solution. The all but certain prospect is that more, and perhaps worse, trouble lies ahead.

The turbulence began with a modest run on the wobbly franc after Charles de Gaulle resigned and speculators became convinced that France would order a long-anticipated devaluation (TIME, May 9). Then,...

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