Closing the Gold Window: Remembering the Nixon Lie 40 Years Ago

By:  Bob Adelmann
08/16/2011
       
Closing the Gold Window: Remembering the Nixon Lie 40 Years Ago

Against the backdrop of price inflation reaching six percent, the unemployment rate touching five percent, the increasingly large holdings by foreign governments of dollars (that at the time were convertible into gold upon demand) and his desperate need to get reelected, in August, 1971 President Nixon conferred with his economic advisers about how to solve the inflation problem without taking any blame for it.

The meeting was precipitated by the demand from the British ambassador “who showed up at the Treasury Department to request that $3 billion [of paper dollars] be converted into gold. At that moment in time, the amount of “cover” — the amount of gold held in Fort Knox as a percentage of outstanding paper dollar claims against it — had declined from 55% to 22% — leaving the Treasury desperately close to default. The economic advisers surrounding Nixon knew that “shutting the gold window would weaken the dollar against other currencies, thus adding to inflation by driving up the price of imported goods,” but they moved ahead anyway. And so was born the Nixon lie, delivered just as the Asian markets were opening on Sunday night, August 15, 1971. Here are the relevant parts of the lie:

Against the backdrop of price inflation reaching six percent, the unemployment rate touching five percent, the increasingly large holdings by foreign governments of dollars (that at the time were convertible into gold upon demand) and his desperate need to get reelected, in August, 1971 President Nixon conferred with his economic advisers about how to solve the inflation problem without taking any blame for it.

The meeting was precipitated by the demand from the British ambassador “who showed up at the Treasury Department to request that $3 billion [of paper dollars] be converted into gold. At that moment in time, the amount of “cover” — the amount of gold held in Fort Knox as a percentage of outstanding paper dollar claims against it — had declined from 55% to 22% — leaving the Treasury desperately close to default. The economic advisers surrounding Nixon knew that “shutting the gold window would weaken the dollar against other currencies, thus adding to inflation by driving up the price of imported goods,” but they moved ahead anyway. And so was born the Nixon lie, delivered just as the Asian markets were opening on Sunday night, August 15, 1971. Here are the relevant parts of the lie:

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Former President Richard M. Nixon (photo)

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