7/25/2019

Bretton Woods and Our Current Economic Distemper

"Without question, the American people are longing for something like the era of Bretton Woods. They pine for the time when it seemed that everyone had a good job or could get one; when manufacturing, not finance, was the dominant economic sector; when the next generation did better than the last—the time of postwar prosperity.

Moreover, since the early 1970s, Americans have experienced grave doubts about the dollar. The inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, regularly in the double-digits per year, made the dollar a laughingstock for the first time in its history, dispatching―for good as it turned out―the phrase “sound as a dollar” from American parlance. The mania over saving for retirement, which began in the 1970s, is in large part the result of expectations about the depreciative nature of the dollar after the era of Bretton Woods. The purpose of saving for retirement in 401(k) accounts is not merely to corral stock-market gains, but to get a long-term return that beats inflation, costs, and taxes. Financial advisors and investment strategies (and the costs they imply), now the property of the masses, were a boutique industry prior to the 1970s. Finally, the Federal Reserve has attracted popular derision and skepticism, as exemplified by former Rep. Ron Paul’s “end the Fed” movement, the viral Ben Bernanke videos after the 2008 crisis, and the big increases in purchases of gold."