Three Days at Camp David | Jeffrey E. Garten

Summary of: Three Days at Camp David: How a Secret Meeting in 1971 Transformed the Global Economy
By: Jeffrey E. Garten


Welcome to the captivating world of economics and politics in the book ‘Three Days at Camp David: How a Secret Meeting in 1971 Transformed the Global Economy’ by Jeffrey E. Garten. This summary takes you behind the scenes of a secret meeting in 1971 that marked the end of the Bretton Woods fixed-currency system. Discover how President Richard Nixon’s pivotal decision forever changed the global economy, and explore the personalities, motives, and long-lasting consequences of this clandestine gathering. As you read, you will unravel the complex web of economic and political factors that eventually led to the end of America’s role as the leader of the free world.

Nixon’s Decision

Garten’s book exposes President Richard Nixon’s weekend decision in 1971 to terminate the Bretton Woods fixed-currency system, which eventually put an end to America’s leadership status. Garten, a former senior adviser to the Nixon, Carter, and Clinton administrations, meticulously describes the personalities and the political and economic motivations in the covert meetings. Nixon’s decision was the turning point in American history, and Garten’s vivid details allow readers to examine the ramifications of breaking away from the gold standard and dismantling the postwar monetary arrangement.

The Bretton Woods Agreement

In 1944, the Bretton Woods conference established the fixed exchange rate of $35 per ounce of gold for US dollars and allowed other currencies to fluctuate by only 1%. The agreement aimed to provide stability to a recovering global economy post-World War II. However, the uncontrollable increase in US dollars led to strain against the fixed exchange rate, causing other nations’ exports to grow and the US to dominate the global economy. Eventually, the agreement’s failure was foreseen, leading to its demise, nicknamed the “death watch for Bretton Woods,” due to the Vietnam War and LBJ’s social programs.

US Gold Reserves Deplete

In 1955, the US had enough gold to cover their liabilities to other central banks and governments by 1.6 times. However, by 1971, they only had one-quarter of the gold required to match these liabilities. The increase in foreign investments by US multinational companies, high wages making exports uncompetitive, and domestic inflation were some of the reasons behind their depleted gold reserves. Central banks holding US dollar reserves could see the situation worsening but did not want to antagonize the US by cashing in their dollars for gold, leading to decreased control of the Bretton Woods system.

Nixon’s Shocking Decision

In August 1971, President Nixon gathered top economic advisors at Camp David to discuss the US’ commitment to the dollar-gold link. All but one agreed that the US should sever the link unilaterally. A few days later, Nixon announced the decision, which included imposing a 10% tariff on imports and wage and price controls. This became known as the “Nixon Shock,” leaving central banks worldwide holding US dollars of uncertain value. This event had a significant impact on the global economy and marked the end of the Bretton Woods system.

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