David Galland provides a succinct summary of US monetary history. As you can see, it is replete with various discontinuities. Not stated is that, since the formation of the Federal Reserve in 1913, the dollar has lost 96% of its purchasing power. All of this loss is due to inflating the money supply. Most of that inflation has occurred since the abandonment of the gold standard in 1971 and is now exploding in terms of the Federal Reserves balance sheet which has more than tripled since 2008.
Here is Mr. Galland’s summary:
A Brief Timeline of US Monetary System Failures
Here’s a brief history of past disruptions here in the United States. Importantly, with the US dollar now the de facto reserve currency of the world, this time around it’s global.
1861 – When the Civil War begins, the dollar is convertible into gold and silver.
1862 – Congress passes the Legal Tender Act and authorizes the issuance of non-redeemable “Greenback” currency. Convertibility into gold and silver is suspended for all US currency.
1863 – National Banking Act authorizes the chartering of banks by the federal government.
1865 – A 10% tax is levied on the issuance of bank notes by state-chartered banks, effectively ending that practice.
1879 – The US Treasury resumes redeeming dollars for gold and silver.
1900 – Passage of the Gold Standard Act, adopting the gold standard by the United States and demonetizing silver.
Specifically, the act provided for “…the dollar consisting of twenty-five and eight-tenths grains (1.67 g) of gold nine-tenths fine, as established by section thirty-five hundred and eleven of the Revised Statutes of the United States, shall be the standard unit of value, and all forms of money issued or coined by the United States shall be maintained at a parity of value with this standard…”
But 33 years later, to gain the power to inflate the currency and collect the profit from doing so…
1933 – By executive order, Franklin Roosevelt prohibits the private ownership of gold. Congress passes the Gold Reserve Act, which enacts Roosevelt’s executive order, abrogates all gold clauses in all contracts public or private, past or future (which cancels the convertibility of Federal Reserve notes into gold), though it confirms the convertibility of US Treasury notes held by foreigners into gold. Eleven years later, the US government takes its show on the road…
1944 – Bretton Woods system adopted with signature countries agreeing to tie the exchange rates of their currencies to the US dollar, which itself is linked to a fixed price of gold. Foreign trading partners retained the right to swap dollars for gold, imposing a de facto restraint on printing more dollars. For all intents and purposes, the US dollar becomes the world’s reserve currency. But 27 years later…
1971 – Nixon abruptly closes the “gold window,” unilaterally reneging on the Treasury’s promise to allow foreign governments to redeem dollars for gold. Bretton Woods collapses. With no remaining tie to a tangible, the dollar is reduced to a paper token. The transition to a global fiat monetary system is complete.
Until 40 years go by and the inevitable consequences of giving politicians free rein over money creation become untenable…
Present day – Sovereign debt crisis. Desperate, debt-laden governments around the globe – the bulk of their reserves composed of fiat US dollars and euros at risk of going up in smoke – turn to the only thing they know, printing more money and issuing yet more debt. The global monetary system cracks and heads toward failure with no workable alternative on the horizon.
Governments, corporations and investors alike are caught unprepared in the downward spiral of failing fiat currencies and are wiped out by a combination of frantic currency debasements, higher taxation, exchange controls and worse. Social unrest spreads, with the public paradoxically demanding that governments do more, not less.
That’s because all the world’s major currencies are at risk, simultaneously, as the issuers engage in a dangerous race to the bottom. As the monetary system moves inexorably toward terminal debasement and collapse, the results will be catastrophic for the unprepared.
Importantly, while the list of historical attempts to re-jigger the US monetary system have, to this point, more or less succeeded in kicking the can a bit further down the road, the sheer scale of today’s government obligations has driven us into a box canyon, with no way out. As the government’s debt and spending obligations are mathematically impossible to resolve, it is now a certainty that a lot of people are going to wake up one morning to the reality that they are a lot poorer than they thought.
Fortunately for those now paying attention, the collapse of a monetary system doesn’t happen in a flash. It is a progression, like the spiral of water down a drain. Thus, while no one can predict exactly when the downward spiral will accelerate out of control, there is still time to prepare.