Abandoning the gold standard was a fatal error we’re now all paying fo
Roll out the bunting. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the modern global economy.
By Edmund Conway
13 Aug 2011
That’s right: come Monday morning we will have managed to survive four decades of fiat money – though, given the chaos in markets in recent weeks, it is anyone’s guess how much longer it will last.
On 15 August 1971, with the US public finances straitened by the cost of the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon finally cut the link between the US dollar and gold. Until then, the US Treasury was duty bound to exchange an ounce of gold with central banks willing to pay them $35.
Suddenly, for the first time in history, the level of the world’s currencies depended not on the value of gold or some other tangible commodity but on the amount of trust investors had in that currency. Central banks were allowed to set monetary policy based on their instincts rather than on the need to keep their currency in line with gold.
It was one of those seminal moments whose significance has only gradually become apparent, obscured as it was at the time by Vietnam and then Watergate. But the more one examines economic history, the more obvious it is that this was one of the most important policy decisions in modern history.
Were it not for that decision, it is quite feasible that we would not have suffered the financial crisis of the past four years; or indeed the crisis after crisis that have beset the world’s markets. We might not have just faced the most volatile few weeks in markets since 2008.