The Nixon Shock: 50 Years of Money Without Gold

The “Nixon Shock” took place 50 years ago this week – when the dollar was disconnected from gold and the world was turned upside down.

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This week on “Money Reimagined,” we reflect back on the “Nixon Shock” of Aug. 15, 1971 - 50 years ago this week – when the dollar was removed from its peg to gold and the world of finance was turned upside down.

This episode is sponsored by Unique One Network.

Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of a number of books on currencies and the international monetary system, joined Michael Casey and Sheila Warren to discuss the legacy of this moment. Also chiming in was CoinDesk’s managing editor of podcasts, Adam B. Levine.

When President Richard Nixon made his drastic decision to remove the dollar from its peg to gold, it prompted all other countries to de-peg their currencies from the dollar, thereby ending the Bretton Woods managed exchange rate system that had been in place since 1944. By extension, it kickstarted the era of fiat currencies that we still live in.

The world that emerged out of that move – one in which the supply of currencies was now at the discretion of monetary officials – set the tone for the current challenges of the global financial system and the powerful role that central banks now play. This monetary history also provides vital context for the efforts by bitcoin and cryptocurrency advocates to build an alternative to that system.

Prasad recognized the disruption that digital currency technology seems poised to bring to the world of money and sees a competition for supremacy emerging. However, he was lukewarm about the utility of bitcoin in that future, in part because he believes the element that most bitcoiners are drawn to – its fixed supply – is more of a bug than a feature. The real risk in the global economy, he says, is a fall in prices, not inflation. To stave off the threat of a self-destructive deflationary spiral, he said, monetary issuers need discretionary power to increase money supply

That set up a healthy debate with Levine, who argued for the superiority of the Bitcoin protocol’s predictable supply function to generate public “trust” over the discretion of central bankers and who claimed that inflation has been severely understated ever since the Nixon Shock.

Image credit: Bettmann/CORBIS/Bettmann Archive via Getty, modified by CoinDesk