1944’s Bretton Woods agreement replaced gold with US Dollars – and caused far more problems than it solved…
The year was 1944. For the first time in modern history, an international agreement was reached to govern monetary policy among nations. It was, significantly, a chance to create a stabilizing international currency and ensure monetary stability once and for all. In total, 730 delegates from 44 nations met for three weeks in July that year at a hotel resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.
It was a significant opportunity. But it fell short of what could have been achieved. It was a turning point in monetary history, however.
The result of this international meeting, the Bretton Woods Agreement, had the original purpose of rebuilding after World War II through a series of currency stabilization programs and infrastructure loans to war-ravaged nations. By 1946, the system was in full operation through the newly established International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, the World Bank) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
What makes the Bretton Woods accords so interesting to us today is the fact that the whole plan for international monetary policy was based on nations agreeing to adhere to a global gold standard. Each country signing the agreement promised to maintain its currency at values within a narrow margin to the value of gold. The IMF was established to facilitate payment imbalances on a temporary basis.
This system worked for 25 years. But it was flawed in its underlying assumptions. By pegging international currency to gold at $35 an ounce, it failed to take into effect the change in gold’s actual value since 1934, when the $35 level had been set. The dollar had lost substantial purchasing power during and after World War II, and as European economies built back up, the ever-growing drain on U.S. gold reserves doomed the Bretton Woods Agreement as a permanent, working system.