Half a century ago today, on August 15, 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon took a momentous step.
After World War II, the U.S. had used its leverage as the last advanced economy standing to make the dollar the foundation of a global system of exchange rates. The postwar dollar was backed by huge gold reserves built up in part through American sales of munitions to Europe during the war. The system, known as Bretton Woods for the New Hampshire site of its enactment, played a key role in the reconstruction of devastated economies in Europe and Japan.
But by 1971, those recovering economies had become a threat to the gold-backed dollar. Rising exports from Europe and Japan eroded the U.S. share of global trade, reducing demand for American currency. Combined with excess U.S. spending, this convinced financial markets that the dollar was overvalued against its $35 per ounce gold peg. Starting in the 1960s, dollars were redeemed for gold at a faster and faster clip, a “gold run” motivated by the belief that the dollar’s peg might break, leaving dollar holders short.
Read the full story and more from Coindesk.