Bretton Woods Agreement 1971


The massive inflow of USD in exchange of gold not only dissatisfied one of the US’s initial goals, which was for the USD to become the world’s central currency, but also resulted in a depletion of gold reserves of the US, which undermined the stability of the USD. All these events culminated in Nixon’s announcement that the USD was no longer pegged to the gold standard in 1971, which was the sign of the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system. Besides Triffin, other economists foresaw the defects in the Bretton Woods system as well. In 1941, Keynes proposed a more appropriate alternative to USD as global reserve currency called “bancor”, because he claims that a new currency can prevent the breakdown of one currency’s incompatible purposes. Ultimately, the latent fatal weakness of USD as a dual-purpose currency exacerbated and led to the ultimate breakdown. Meanwhile the war had left the UK bankrupt, and in hock to the USA, a fact emphasised by the terms of the loan Keynes was sent to negotiate with the US in 1946.


  • This might involve either a more deflationary overall macro policy or a shift in the fiscal/monetary mix, toward tighter money and easier fiscal policy, to combat a payments deficit.
  • The increasing demand for dollars led the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve System to increase the amount of dollars and thus to depreciate the purchasing power of the dollar.
  • The Nixon Administration was afraid that other countries were going to ask for gold and the U.S. wouldn’t have it.

The latter was in open contrast to the academic consensus on the need for more exchange rate flexibility. Since the devaluation of sterling in November 1967, the uncertainties of France after the 1968 political turmoil, and the surpluses of Germany and Japan, authorities became interested in exchange rate flexibility, but more in internal discussions than in public debates. 6 and, if anything, it rather became a frequent practice for the Fund to pressure countries faced with balance-of-payments deficits to depreciate their currencies; there was also pressure on surplus countries to appreciate, but in this case, the IMF’s leverage was very limited. A global reserve system based on a dual gold–dollar standard, but with dollar reserves being the most dynamic element in reserve accumulation. The World Bank is the name used by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Association . Together, these organizations provide low-interest loans, zero-interest credits, and grants to developing countries.

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Speculators pushed many foreign currencies up against their now-higher valuation limits, and the value of gold was driven higher as well. When the U.S. unilaterally decided to devalue its dollar by 10% in February 1973, raising the price of gold to $42 per ounce, it was too much for the system. By 1973, most major currencies had shifted from a fixed to a floating exchange rate relative to the U.S. dollar.

Events that led up to the Gold standard and when it was dissolved – FXStreet

Events that led up to the Gold standard and when it was dissolved.

Posted: Wed, 01 Mar 2023 11:38:29 GMT [source]

Professor Robert Trevin stated that the system is based on the dollar as the main currency. Countries other than the United States had to raise dollars to carry out international trade. The USA had to save virtually unlimited dollars and thus had to run a BOP deficit.

Who signed the Bretton Woods agreement?

The arrangement had actually been in effect for some time, but it took a while for countries to get comfortable with it as the best possible option. The agreement also established the International Monetary Fund, which is tasked with tracking exchange rates, maintaining international reserves currencies, and lending money to countries that require extra funds to maintain their exchange rates. It also created the World Bank, which aimed to help rebuild the global economy after World War II and assist underdeveloped countries with growing their productivity. In Spain, where another housing boom turned to bust, the crisis also led to fiscal problems. Spain introduced several costly bailout packages with enhanced guarantees, and took on a European bailout package. Throughout, international pressure—both political and market based—was harsh leading to higher risk premia.


This inflow of currency caused hyperinflation, as the supply of money overwhelmed the demand. Bretton Woods allowed the world to slowly transition from a gold standard to a U.S. dollar standard. Provide a crude measure that separates out the rise in debt due to bailouts and resolution activity and a remaining portion due to discretionary and automatic fiscal expansion. In their sample, the median rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio after a crisis is 12 with the majority (6.8) attributable to fiscal rescue packages. For advanced economies, the figures are 21.4 and 3.8, and in emerging economies they are 9 and 10. Inference should recognize this fact and the historical record should be assessed in light of these data.

The Collapse of the Bretton Woods System

1.8), but even larger payment imbalances and peak turmoil in the foreign exchange markets of developed countries, which can be understood as a new dollar crisis. After the initial allocation of SDRs, the managing director of the IMF recommended new allocations in 1978, at a time of severe pressure on the dollar. An important decision, however, was the elimination of the reconstitution requirement in April 1981, which allowed a more active use of SDRs by countries, a move that benefited developing countries. US dollars flooded global markets, and many countries began to demand gold in exchange for their dollar holdings. Other governments set their exchange rates to dollars by the gold standard. Fourth, it has been claimed that a number of countries in East Asia that describe their exchange rates as floating are continuing to intervene heavily .

  • The United States was also of the view that holding of foreign exchange should not be banned and, therefore, that there should not be strong rules on reserve composition.
  • No international monetary system — not the gold standard nor any form of standard less fiat system, nor any combination thereof — can insure stability given unsound domestic policies.
  • In the 1930s, world markets never broke through the barriers and restrictions on international trade and investment volume – barriers haphazardly constructed, nationally motivated and imposed.
  • One is that a surplus of the U.S. dollar caused by increasing foreign investment, aid, and American spending caused the number of dollars in circulation to outpace the amount of gold the U.S. government held in reserve.
  • This concept, like some others in the agreement, was never clearly defined, but its meaning was perhaps self-evident, as reflected in the severity of the balance-of-payments crises faced by specific countries at different times.

This literature postulated that the choice of a unit to which to peg should be made with a view to stabilizing some variable, rather than with a view to optimizing some variable. This reflects the view that fluctuations between third currencies are disturbances that threaten to alter an exchange rate that has presumptively been set at an optimal level. Picking a peg is viewed as a problem of minimizing the instability imposed by movements between third currencies that are noise so far as the domestic economy is concerned. If the U.S. obliged, it would have set off further requests for conversions. If they refused, it would be a blatant admission that the U.S. could not honor its commitment to convert dollars to gold. The third choice was aimed at taking the international financial situation head on and one in which President Nixon chose to follow — the closing of the “gold window,” or in other words, suspending the convertability of the dollar into gold.

How Bretton Woods Introduced a New International Monetary System

After the Latin American debt crisis, and particularly after the crisis of several emerging economies of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves in the hands of emerging and developing countries became massive . This was facilitated by the financial boom that took place from 2003 up to the North Atlantic financial crisis. In some cases, the degree of accumulation of reserves might have been excessive, and it had costs. An interesting implication is that this response also provided demand for safe assets from developed countries, particularly the United States, reinforcing the role of the dollar in the fiduciary dollar standard. In fact, it amounted to a transfer of resources to the major reserve-issuing country, making it clear that self-insurance generates an inherent inequity in the current international monetary system.

In 1967, the agreed in Rio de Janeiro to replace the tranche division set up in 1946. Special drawing rights were set as equal to one U.S. dollar, but were not usable for transactions other than between banks and the IMF. Nations were required to accept holding SDRs equal to three times their allotment, and interest would be charged, or credited, to each nation based on their SDR holding. The IMF sought to provide for occasional discontinuous exchange-rate adjustments (changing a member’s par value) by international agreement. Member nations were permitted to adjust their currency exchange rate by 1%.


Triffin believes that one requirement of the role of USD would necessarily result in trade deficit of USD, that is, an outflow of dollars with an aim of increasing other country’s foreign reserves. The other requirement, an inflow of dollars, would result in trade surplus, stabilizing the dollar as the central currency. 1) IMF, short for International Monetary Fund, provides short-term financial loans for countries in serious economic crisis, in order to maintain balance of international payment and safeguard the stability of the international monetary system. WHEN NATIONS are on a gold standard a fixed rate of exchange is both possible and desirable. When each currency is anchored to gold, all currencies are necessarily anchored to each other. But when each country is on its own paper standard its currency can have no fixed value in relation to other currencies.

Handbook of International Economics

The Bretton Woods Agreement was a 1944 meeting of the Allied nations, in which the nations agreed to peg their currencies to the dollar while the dollar was pegged to gold. The Asian crisis of 1997–98 involved banking, currency, and debt crises and these crises were all connected by government guarantees and an ostensibly new factor “original sin” or foreign currency liabilities. Both rising land prices and stock prices in turn increased firms’ collateral encouraging further bank loans adding more fuel for the boom. The bust may have been triggered by the Bank of Japan’s pursuit of a tight monetary policy in 1989 to stem the asset price boom.

It consisted of numerous bilateral and multilateral meetings to reach common ground on what would make up the Bretton Woods system. For the first long decade after the launch of the IMF, the widespread use of foreign exchange restrictions for current account transactions by the European countries had, nonetheless, discriminatory effects against trading with the US and in favour of intra-regional trade. The European Payments Union, to which I refer later, may have had similar effects.

During his first years in power was convinced that the United States‘ economic problems were the result of an excessive international defence burden and protectionist policies by its creditors, which pushed the American balance of payments into persistent deficit. The rules were intended to apply to all nations equally, but as each country was to be free to pursue its own macroeconomic policies, this could result in different inflation rates; hence the requirement for long-run flexibility in the exchange rate. Because it is both the reason for its continual expansion and the cause of recurring crises during which capital is devalued, becomes more concentrated and centralised, and in so doing prepares the way for a new round of accumulation. Historically this meant development from individual entrepreneurs clawing back profit on a single enterprise, to joint stock companies, stock exchanges and, on the European continent especially, the development of finance capital. In terms of the cyclical crisis it meant an increasing synchronisation, first between sectors within domestic economies then throughout the capitalist world.

The Smithsonian Agreement was implemented in Dec. 1971 and paved the way for a new dollar standard, as other industrialized countries pegged their currencies to the U.S. dollar. The Bretton Woods Agreement created two Bretton Woods Institutions, the IMFand the World Bank. Formally introduced in December 1945 both institutions have withstood the test of time, globally serving as important pillars for international capital financing and trade activities. These countries were brought together to help regulate and promote international trade across borders. As with the benefits of all currency pegging regimes, currency pegs are expected to provide currency stabilization for trade of goods and services as well as financing. The Bretton Woods System required a currency peg to the U.S. dollar which was in turn pegged to the price of gold.

This should enable these countries to solve the „exit problem“ that otherwise sooner or later confronts any country with a fixed exchange rate that is not prepared to subjugate its domestic policies to the priority of maintaining a fixed exchange rate. While the G7 were becoming ever more committed to floating and the Europeans were driving toward monetary union, the situation among emerging markets displayed far more diversity. Some countries pegged to a single currency and others to a basket; some used the adjustable peg and some crawled. Quite a number had used a currency peg to provide a nominal anchor to bring inflation under control. Many of them had experienced the same progressive increase in capital mobility that the industrial countries had been through a couple of decades earlier, although some of the less developed were still effectively isolated from the international capital market by capital controls.

Yet, in an era of more activist economic policy, governments did not seriously consider permanently fixed rates on the model of the classical gold standard of the 19th century. Gold production was not even sufficient to meet the demands of growing international trade and investment. Further, a sizable share of the world’s known gold reserves were located in the Soviet Union, which would later emerge as a Cold War rival to the United States and Western Europe. To ensure economic stability and political peace, states agreed to cooperate to closely regulate the production of their currencies to maintain fixed exchange rates between countries with the aim of more easily facilitating international trade.