Σαν σήμερα, 1 Ιουλίου 1944, διεξάγεται η Σύνοδος του Μπρέτον Γουντς, υπό την αιγίδα των Ηνωμένων Εθνών, για τη χάραξη της μεταπολεμικής παγκόσμιας οικονομικής τάξης. Συστήνονται δύο νέοι οργανισμοί: το Διεθνές Νομισματικό Ταμείο και η Παγκόσμια Τράπεζα. Αναγνωρίζεται η ηγεμονία των ΗΠΑ και σε νομισματικό επίπεδο, με την εξίσωση ουσιαστικά του δολλαρίου με το χρυσό, και την καθιέρωση του ως παγκόσμιο αποθεματικό νόμισμα.
Η κρίση του 1929 ξεπεράστηκε τελικά με πόλεμο (Β Παγκόσμιος), που εξόντωσε πολλούς εργάτες, μειώνοντας την ανεργία, και ταυτόχρονα έδωσε έναν τρόπο να επανέλθει η καπιταλιστικού τύπου ανάπτυξη, καθώς από το 1929 έως το Β Παγκόσμιο δεν υπήρχε ουσιαστικά ανάπτυξη. Ο πόλεμος έστειλε τον κόσμο είτε στα πεδία των μαχών, είτε στα εργοστάσια για παραγωγή πολεμικού υλικού.
Με τη νίκη των “Συμμάχων”, και την σχετική πτώση της -κυρίαρχης ως τότε- Αγγλίας, οι ΗΠΑ έγιναν η #1 ιμπεριαλιστική δύναμη στον κόσμο.
Εξ ου και η διάσκεψη του Μπρέτον Γουντς αντικατόπτριζε αυτή την ηγεμονία τους, – περισσότερα (στα αγγλικά) από τη wikipedia:
The political basis for the Bretton Woods system was in the confluence of several key conditions: the shared experiences of the Great Depression, the concentration of power in a small number of states (further enhanced by the exclusion of a number of important nations because of the war), and the presence of a dominant power willing and able to assume a leadership role in global monetary affairs.
A high level of agreement among the powerful on the goals and means of international economic management facilitated the decisions reached by the Bretton Woods Conference. Its foundation was based on a shared belief in capitalism. Although the developed countries’ governments differed in the type of capitalism they preferred for their national economies (France, for example, preferred greater planning and state intervention, whereas the United States favored relatively limited state intervention), all relied primarily on market mechanisms and on private ownership.
Thus, it is their similarities rather than their differences that appear most striking. All the participating governments at Bretton Woods agreed that the monetary chaos of the interwar period had yielded several valuable lessons.
The experience of the Great Depression was fresh on the minds of public officials. The planners at Bretton Woods hoped to avoid a repeat of the debacle of the 1930s, when intransigent American insistence as a creditor nation on the repayment of Allied war debts, combined with an inclination to isolationism, led to a breakdown of the international financial system and a worldwide economic depression. The “beggar thy neighbor” policies of 1930s governments—using currency devaluations to increase the competitiveness of a country’s export products to reduce balance of payments deficits—worsened national deflationary spirals, which resulted in plummeting national incomes, shrinking demand, mass unemployment, and an overall decline in world trade. Trade in the 1930s became largely restricted to currency blocs (groups of nations that use an equivalent currency, such as the “Sterling Area” of the British Empire). These blocs retarded the international flow of capital and foreign investment opportunities. Although this strategy tended to increase government revenues in the short run, it dramatically worsened the situation in the medium and longer run.
Thus, for the international economy, planners at Bretton Woods all favored a regulated system, one that relied on a regulated market with tight controls on the value of currencies. Although they disagreed on the specific implementation of this system, all agreed on the need for tight controls.
Also based on experience of inter-war years, U.S. planners developed a concept of economic security—that a liberal international economic system would enhance the possibilities of postwar peace. One of those who saw such a security link was Cordell Hull, the United States Secretary of State from 1933 to 1944.[Notes 1] Hull believed that the fundamental causes of the two world wars lay in economic discrimination and trade warfare. Specifically, he had in mind the trade and exchange controls (bilateral arrangements)  of Nazi Germany and the imperial preference system practiced by Britain, by which members or former members of the British Empire were accorded special trade status, itself provoked by German, French, and American protectionist policies. Hull argued
[U]nhampered trade dovetailed with peace; high tariffs, trade barriers, and unfair economic competition, with war…if we could get a freer flow of trade…freer in the sense of fewer discriminations and obstructions…so that one country would not be deadly jealous of another and the living standards of all countries might rise, thereby eliminating the economic dissatisfaction that breeds war, we might have a reasonable chance of lasting peace. Βασικά, οι ΗΠΑ ήταν πλέον κυρίαρχες στο δυτικό κόσμο, και ως κυρίαρχη δύναμη δεν ήθελαν προστατευτισμό, ώστε να ευνοηθούν οι εξαγωγές τους
As the war drew to a close, the Bretton Woods conference was the culmination of some two and a half years of planning for postwar reconstruction by the Treasuries of the U.S. and the UK. U.S. representatives studied with their British counterparts the reconstitution of what had been lacking between the two world wars: a system of international payments that would allow trade to be conducted without fear of sudden currency depreciation or wild fluctuations in exchange rates—ailments that had nearly paralyzed world capitalism during the Great Depression.
Without a strong European market for U.S. goods and services, most policymakers believed, the U.S. economy would be unable to sustain the prosperity it had achieved during the war. In addition, U.S. unions had only grudgingly accepted government-imposed restraints on their demand during the war, but they were willing to wait no longer, particularly as inflation cut into the existing wage scales with painful force. (By the end of 1945, there had already been major strikes in the automobile, electrical, and steel industries.)
In early 1945 Bernard Baruch described the spirit of Bretton Woods as: if we can “stop subsidization of labor and sweated competition in the export markets,” as well as prevent rebuilding of war machines, “oh boy, oh boy, what long term prosperity we will have.” The United States [c]ould therefore use its position of influence to reopen and control the [rules of the] world economy, so as to give unhindered access to all nations’ markets and materials.
Wartime devastation of Europe and East Asia
Besides that, U.S. allies—economically exhausted by the war—accepted this leadership. They needed U.S. assistance to rebuild their domestic production and to finance their international trade; indeed, they needed it to survive.
Before the war, the French and the British were realizing that they could no longer compete with U.S. industry in an open marketplace. During the 1930s, the British had created their own economic bloc to shut out U.S. goods. Churchill did not believe that he could surrender that protection after the war, so he watered down the Atlantic Charter’s “free access” clause before agreeing to it.
Yet, the U.S. officials were determined to open their access to the British empire. The combined value of British and U.S. trade was well over half of all the world’s trade in goods. For the U.S. to open global markets, it first had to split the British (trade) empire. While Britain had economically dominated the 19th century, the U.S. officials intended the second half of the 20th to be under U.S. hegemony.
According to one commentator,
One of the reasons Bretton Woods worked was that the US was clearly the most powerful country at the table and so ultimately was able to impose its will on the others, including an often-dismayed Britain. At the time, one senior official at the Bank of England described the deal reached at Bretton Woods as “the greatest blow to Britain next to the war”, largely because it underlined the way in which financial power had moved from the UK to the US.
A devastated Britain had little choice. Two world wars had destroyed the country’s principal industries that paid for the importation of half the nation’s food and nearly all its raw materials except coal. The British had no choice but to ask for aid. Not until the United States signed an agreement on December 6, 1945 to grant Britain aid of $4.4 billion did the British Parliament ratify the Bretton Woods Agreements (which occurred later in December 1945).
For nearly two centuries, French and U.S. interests had clashed in both the Old World and the New World. During the war, French mistrust of the United States was embodied by General Charles de Gaulle, president of the French provisional government. De Gaulle bitterly fought U.S. officials as he tried to maintain his country’s colonies and diplomatic freedom of action. In turn, U.S. officials saw de Gaulle as a political extremist.
But in 1945 de Gaulle—at that point the leading voice of French nationalism—was forced to grudgingly ask the U.S. for a billion-dollar loan. Most of the request was granted; in return France promised to curtail government subsidies and currency manipulation that had given its exporters advantages in the world market.
On a far more profound level, as the Bretton Woods conference was convening, the greater part of the Third World remained politically and economically subordinate. Linked to the developed countries of the West economically and politically—formally and informally—these states had little choice but to acquiesce in the international economic system established for them. In the East, Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe provided the foundation for a separate international economic system.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries gold played a key role in international monetary transactions. The gold standard was used to back currencies; the international value of currency was determined by its fixed relationship to gold; gold was used to settle international accounts. The gold standard maintained fixed exchange rates that were seen as desirable because they reduced the risk of trading with other countries.
Imbalances in international trade were theoretically rectified automatically by the gold standard. A country with a deficit would have depleted gold reserves and would thus have to reduce its money supply. The resulting fall in demand would reduce imports and the lowering of prices would boost exports; thus the deficit would be rectified. Any country experiencing inflation would lose gold and therefore would have a decrease in the amount of money available to spend. This decrease in the amount of money would act to reduce the inflationary pressure. Supplementing the use of gold in this period was the British pound. Based on the dominant British economy, the pound became a reserve, transaction, and intervention currency. But the pound was not up to the challenge of serving as the primary world currency, given the weakness of the British economy after the Second World War.
The architects of Bretton Woods had conceived of a system wherein exchange rate stability was a prime goal. 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 nineteenth century. Gold production was not even sufficient to meet the demands of growing international trade and investment. And a sizeable 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.
The only currency strong enough to meet the rising demands for international currency transactions was the U.S. dollar. The strength of the U.S. economy, the fixed relationship of the dollar to gold ($35 an ounce), and the commitment of the U.S. government to convert dollars into gold at that price made the dollar as good as gold. In fact, the dollar was even better than gold: it earned interest and it was more flexible than gold.
Another view is that in the time of discount banks, discount was the interest earned on gold, and that the only way to repay interest on government bonds is by printing more dollars, thus raising the price of gold. If gold is fixed at $35 then other countries will demand gold and not accept dollars. The closing of the gold window in 1971 was the result.
Fixed exchange rates
The rules of Bretton Woods, set forth in the articles of agreement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), provided for a system of fixed exchange rates. The rules further sought to encourage an open system by committing members to the convertibility of their respective currencies into other currencies and to free trade.
What emerged was the “pegged rate” currency regime. Members were required to establish a parity of their national currencies in terms of gold (a “peg”) and to maintain exchange rates within plus or minus 1% of parity (a “band”) by intervening in their foreign exchange markets (that is, buying or selling foreign money).
In theory the reserve currency would be the bancor (a World Currency Unit that was never implemented), suggested by John Maynard Keynes; however, the United States objected and their request was granted, making the “reserve currency” the U.S. dollar. This meant that other countries would peg their currencies to the U.S. dollar, and—once convertibility was restored—would buy and sell U.S. dollars to keep market exchange rates within plus or minus 1% of parity. Thus, the U.S. dollar took over the role that gold had played under the gold standard in the international financial system. (Rogue Nation, 2003, Clyde Prestowitz)
Meanwhile, to bolster faith in the dollar, the U.S. agreed separately to link the dollar to gold at the rate of $35 per ounce of gold. At this rate, foreign governments and central banks were able to exchange dollars for gold. Bretton Woods established a system of payments based on the dollar, in which all currencies were defined in relation to the dollar, itself convertible into gold, and above all, “as good as gold”. The U.S. currency was now effectively the world currency, the standard to which every other currency was pegged. As the world’s key currency, most international transactions were denominated in US dollars.
The U.S. dollar was the currency with the most purchasing power and it was the only currency that was backed by gold. Additionally, all European nations that had been involved in World War II were highly in debt and transferred large amounts of gold into the United States, a fact that contributed to the supremacy of the United States. Thus, the U.S. dollar was strongly appreciated in the rest of the world and therefore became the key currency of the Bretton Woods system.
Member countries could only change their par value with IMF approval, which was contingent on IMF determination that its balance of payments was in a “fundamental disequilibrium”.
Keynes’ proposals would have established a world reserve currency (which he thought might be called “bancor”) administered by a central bank vested with the possibility of creating money and with the authority to take actions on a much larger scale (understandable considering deflationary problems in Britain at the time).
In case of balance of payments imbalances, Keynes recommended that both debtors and creditors should change their policies. As outlined by Keynes, countries with payment surpluses should increase their imports from the deficit countries and thereby create a foreign trade equilibrium. Thus, Keynes was sensitive to the problem that placing too much of the burden on the deficit country would be deflationary.
But the United States, as a likely creditor nation, and eager to take on the role of the world’s economic powerhouse, balked at Keynes’ plan and did not pay serious attention to it. The U.S. contingent was too concerned about inflationary pressures in the postwar economy, and White saw an imbalance as a problem only of the deficit country.
Έλα όμως που τώρα οι ΗΠΑ είναι αυτές που χρωστούν…
Although compromise was reached on some points, because of the overwhelming economic and military power of the United States, the participants at Bretton Woods largely agreed on White’s plan.
Late Bretton Woods System
U.S. balance of payments crisis
After the end of World War II, the U.S. held $26 billion in gold reserves, of an estimated total of $40 billion (approx 60%). As world trade increased rapidly through the 1950s, the size of the gold base increased by only a few percent. In 1950, the U.S. balance of payments swung negative. The first U.S. response to the crisis was in the late 1950s when the Eisenhower administration placed import quotas on oil and other restrictions on trade outflows. More drastic measures were proposed, but not acted upon. However, with a mounting recession that began in 1958, this response alone was not sustainable. In 1960, with Kennedy’s election, a decade-long effort to maintain the Bretton Woods System at the $35/ounce price was begun.
The design of the Bretton Woods System was that nations could only enforce gold convertibility on the anchor currency—the United States’ dollar. Gold convertibility enforcement was not required, but instead, allowed. Nations could forgo converting dollars to gold, and instead hold dollars. Rather than full convertibility, it provided a fixed price for sales between central banks. However, there was still an open gold market. For the Bretton Woods system to remain workable, it would either have to alter the peg of the dollar to gold, or it would have to maintain the free market price for gold near the $35 per ounce official price. The greater the gap between free market gold prices and central bank gold prices, the greater the temptation to deal with internal economic issues by buying gold at the Bretton Woods price and selling it on the open market.
In 1960 Robert Triffin noticed that holding dollars was more valuable than gold because constant U.S. balance of payments deficits helped to keep the system liquid and fuel economic growth. What would later come to be known as Triffin’s Dilemma was predicted when Triffin noted that if the U.S. failed to keep running deficits the system would lose its liquidity, not be able to keep up with the world’s economic growth, and, thus, bring the system to a halt. But incurring such payment deficits also meant that, over time, the deficits would erode confidence in the dollar as the reserve currency created instability.
The first effort was the creation of the London Gold Pool on November 1 of 1961 between eight nations. The theory behind the pool was that spikes in the free market price of gold, set by the morning gold fix in London, could be controlled by having a pool of gold to sell on the open market, that would then be recovered when the price of gold dropped. Gold’s price spiked in response to events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other smaller events, to as high as $40/ounce. The Kennedy administration drafted a radical change of the tax system to spur more production capacity and thus encourage exports. This culminated with the 1963 tax cut program, designed to maintain the $35 peg.
In 1967, there was an attack on the pound and a run on gold in the sterling area, and on November 18, 1967, the British government was forced to devalue the pound. U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson was faced with a brutal choice, either institute protectionist measures, including travel taxes, export subsidies and slashing the budget—or accept the risk of a “run on gold” and the dollar. From Johnson’s perspective: “The world supply of gold is insufficient to make the present system workable—particularly as the use of the dollar as a reserve currency is essential to create the required international liquidity to sustain world trade and growth.” He believed that the priorities of the United States were correct, and, although there were internal tensions in the Western alliance, that turning away from open trade would be more costly, economically and politically, than it was worth: “Our role of world leadership in a political and military sense is the only reason for our current embarrassment in an economic sense on the one hand and on the other the correction of the economic embarrassment under present monetary systems will result in an untenable position economically for our allies.”
While West Germany agreed not to purchase gold from the U.S., and agreed to hold dollars instead, the pressure on both the dollar and the pound sterling continued. In January 1968 Johnson imposed a series of measures designed to end gold outflow, and to increase U.S. exports. This was unsuccessful, however, as in mid-March 1968 a run on gold ensued, the London Gold Pool was dissolved, and a series of meetings attempted to rescue or reform the existing system. But, as long as the U.S. commitments to foreign deployment continued, particularly to Western Europe, there was little that could be done to maintain the gold peg.[original research?]
All attempts to maintain the peg collapsed in November 1968, and a new policy program attempted to convert the Bretton Woods system into an enforcement mechanism of floating the gold peg, which would be set by either fiat policy or by a restriction to honor foreign accounts. The collapse of the gold pool and the refusal of the pool members to trade gold with private entities—on March 18, 1968 the Congress of the United States repealed the 25% requirement of gold backing of the dollar—as well as the US pledge to suspend gold sales to governments that trade in the private markets, led to the expansion of the private markets for international gold trade, in which the price of gold rose much higher than the official dollar price.  The US gold reserves continued to be depleted due to the actions of some nations, notably France, who continued to build up their gold reserves…
A second structural change that undermined monetary management was the decline of U.S. hegemony. The U.S. was no longer the dominant economic power it had been for more than two decades. By the mid-1960s, the E.E.C. and Japan had become international economic powers in their own right. With total reserves exceeding those of the U.S., with higher levels of growth and trade, and with per capita income approaching that of the U.S., Europe and Japan were narrowing the gap between themselves and the United States.
The shift toward a more pluralistic distribution of economic power led to increasing dissatisfaction with the privileged role of the U.S. dollar as the international currency. As in effect the world’s central banker, the U.S., through its deficit, determined the level of international liquidity. In an increasingly interdependent world, U.S. policy greatly influenced economic conditions in Europe and Japan. In addition, as long as other countries were willing to hold dollars, the U.S. could carry out massive foreign expenditures for political purposes—military activities and foreign aid—without the threat of balance-of-payments constraints.
Dissatisfaction with the political implications of the dollar system was increased by détente between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Soviet threat had been an important force in cementing the Western capitalist monetary system. The U.S. political and security umbrella helped make American economic domination palatable for Europe and Japan, which had been economically exhausted by the war. As gross domestic production grew in European countries, trade grew. When common security tensions lessened, this loosened the transatlantic dependence on defence concerns, and allowed latent economic tensions to surface.
Reinforcing the relative decline in U.S. power and the dissatisfaction of Europe and Japan with the system was the continuing decline of the dollar—the foundation that had underpinned the post-1945 global trading system. The Vietnam War and the refusal of the administration of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson to pay for it and its Great Society programs through taxation resulted in an increased dollar outflow to pay for the military expenditures and rampant inflation, which led to the deterioration of the U.S. balance of trade position. In the late 1960s, the dollar was overvalued with its current trading position, while the Deutsche Mark and the yen were undervalued; and, naturally, the Germans and the Japanese had no desire to revalue and thereby make their exports more expensive, whereas the U.S. sought to maintain its international credibility by avoiding devaluation. Meanwhile, the pressure on government reserves was intensified by the new international currency markets, with their vast pools of speculative capital moving around in search of quick profits.
In contrast, upon the creation of Bretton Woods, with the U.S. producing half of the world’s manufactured goods and holding half its reserves, the twin burdens of international management and the Cold War were possible to meet at first. Throughout the 1950s Washington sustained a balance of payments deficit to finance loans, aid, and troops for allied regimes. But during the 1960s the costs of doing so became less tolerable. By 1970 the U.S. held under 16% of international reserves. Adjustment to these changed realities was impeded by the U.S. commitment to fixed exchange rates and by the U.S. obligation to convert dollars into gold on demand.
Floating-rate Bretton Woods system 1968–1972
By 1968, the attempt to defend the dollar at a fixed peg of $35/ounce, the policy of the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations, had become increasingly untenable. Gold outflows from the U.S. accelerated, and despite gaining assurances from Germany and other nations to hold gold, the unbalanced fiscal spending of the Johnson administration had transformed the dollar shortage of the 1940s and 1950s into a dollar glut by the 1960s. In 1967, the IMF 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 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) equal to three times their allotment, and interest would be charged, or credited, to each nation based on their SDR holding. The original interest rate was 1.5%.
The intent of the SDR system was to prevent nations from buying pegged gold and selling it at the higher free market price, and give nations a reason to hold dollars by crediting interest, at the same time setting a clear limit to the amount of dollars that could be held. The essential conflict was that the American role as military defender of the capitalist world’s economic system was recognized, but not given a specific monetary value. In effect, other nations “purchased” American defense policy by taking a loss in holding dollars. They were only willing to do this as long as they supported U.S. military policy. Because of the Vietnam War and other unpopular actions, the pro-U.S. consensus began to evaporate. The SDR agreement, in effect, monetized the value of this relationship, but did not create a market for it.
The use of SDRs as paper gold seemed to offer a way to balance the system, turning the IMF, rather than the U.S., into the world’s central banker. The U.S. tightened controls over foreign investment and currency, including mandatory investment controls in 1968. In 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon lifted import quotas on oil in an attempt to reduce energy costs; instead, however, this exacerbated dollar flight, and created pressure from petro-dollars. Still, the U.S. continued to draw down reserves. In 1971 it had a reserve deficit of $56 billion; as well, it had depleted most of its non-gold reserves and had only 22% gold coverage of foreign reserves. In short, the dollar was tremendously overvalued with respect to gold.
By the early 1970s, as the Vietnam War accelerated inflation, the United States as a whole began running a trade deficit. The crucial turning point was 1970, which saw U.S. gold coverage deteriorate from 55% to 22%. This, in the view of neoclassical economists, represented the point where holders of the dollar had lost faith in the ability of the U.S. to cut budget and trade deficits.
In 1971 more and more dollars were being printed in Washington, then being pumped overseas, to pay for government expenditure on the military and social programs. In the first six months of 1971, assets for $22 billion fled the U.S. In response, on August 15, 1971, Nixon unilaterally imposed 90-day wage and price controls, a 10% import surcharge, and most importantly “closed the gold window”, making the dollar inconvertible to gold directly, except on the open market. Unusually, this decision was made without consulting members of the international monetary system or even his own State Department, and was soon dubbed the “Nixon Shock”.
The surcharge was dropped in December 1971 as part of a general revaluation of major currencies, which were henceforth allowed 2.25% devaluations from the agreed exchange rate. But even the more flexible official rates could not be defended against the speculators. By March 1976, all the major currencies were floating—in other words, exchange rates were no longer the principal method used by governments to administer monetary policy.
The shock of August 15 was followed by efforts under U.S. leadership to develop a new system of international monetary management. Throughout the fall of 1971, there was a series of multilateral and bilateral negotiations of the Group of Ten seeking to develop a new multilateral monetary system.
On December 17 and 18, 1971, the Group of Ten, meeting in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, created the Smithsonian Agreement, which devalued the dollar to $38/ounce, with 2.25% trading bands, and attempted to balance the world financial system using SDRs alone. It was criticized at the time, and was by design a “temporary” agreement. It failed to impose discipline on the U.S. government, and with no other credibility mechanism in place, the pressure against the dollar in gold continued.
This resulted in gold becoming a floating asset, and in 1971 it reached $44.20/ounce, in 1972 $70.30/ounce and still climbing. By 1972, currencies began abandoning even this devalued peg against the dollar, though it took a decade for all of the industrialized nations to do so. In February 1973 the Bretton Woods currency exchange markets closed, after a last-gasp devaluation of the dollar to $44/ounce, and reopened in March in a floating currency regime.
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Is this possible?