Gold standard

A gold standard is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is based on a fixed quantity of gold. The gold standard was the basis for the international monetary system from the 1870s to the early 1920s, and from the late 1920s to 1932[1][2] as well as from 1944 until 1971 when the United States unilaterally terminated convertibility of the US dollar to gold foreign central banks, effectively ending the Bretton Woods system.[3] Many states nonetheless hold substantial gold reserves.[4][5]

Two golden 20 kr coins from the Scandinavian Monetary Union, which was based on a gold standard. The coin to the left is Swedish and the one on the right is Danish.
Gold certificates were used as paper currency in the United States from 1882 to 1933. These certificates were freely convertible into gold coins.

Historically, the silver standard and bimetallism have been more common than the gold standard.[6][7] The shift to an international monetary system based on a gold standard reflected accident, network externalities, and path dependence.[6] Great Britain accidentally adopted a de facto gold standard in 1717 when Sir Isaac Newton, then-master of the Royal Mint, set the exchange rate of silver to gold too low, thus causing silver coins to go out of circulation.[8] As Great Britain became the world's leading financial and commercial power in the 19th century, other states increasingly adopted Britain's monetary system.[8]

The gold standard was largely abandoned during the Great Depression before being re-instated in a limited form as part of the post-World War II Bretton Woods system. The gold standard was abandoned due to its propensity for volatility, as well as the constraints it imposed on governments: by retaining a fixed exchange rate, governments were hamstrung in engaging in expansionary policies to, for example, reduce unemployment during economic recessions.[9][10] There is a consensus among economists that a return to the gold standard would not be beneficial,[11] and most economic historians reject the idea that the gold standard "was effective in stabilizing prices and moderating business-cycle fluctuations during the nineteenth century."[12]

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