Bretton Woods and the Financial Crisis of 1971 (B)
In August 1971, President Richard Nixon had to decide how to respond to a growing "run" on the US dollar. Declining confidence in the dollar had led some national trading partners to redeem dollars for gold at the US Treasury's gold window. In the Bretton Woods system, the US dollar was the world's reserve currency. To supply sufficient money to accommodate growth in the global economy, the United States would inevitably run deficits in its balance of payments-which would ultimately force it to devalue its currency. The Bretton Woods system seemed engineered to fail. Nixon's two dominant policy alternatives were (a) do nothing; and (b) devalue the dollar by abandoning the commitment under the Bretton Woods Agreement to convert dollars into gold at $35/ounce. Students must assess the situation and recommend a course of action. The A case describes the Bretton Woods system, the run on the dollar, and Nixon's policy dilemma. The B case gives the text of Nixon's 1971 address outlining his New Economic Policy. The A and B abridged case shortens the total presentation by eliminating some of the quoted material; the student task in this case is to analyze Nixon's decision and decide on next steps. The C case presents a brief epilogue.