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Visualizing the Buying Power of the U.S. Dollar Over the Last Century

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The Buying Power of the U.S. Dollar Over the Last Century

The Buying Power of the U.S. Dollar Over the Last Century

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

The value of money is not static. In the short term, it may ebb and flow against other currencies on the market. In the long-term, a currency tends to lose buying power over time through inflation, and as more currency units are created.

Inflation is a result of too much money chasing too few goods – and it is often influenced by government policies, central banks, and other factors. In this short timeline of monetary history in the 20th century, we look at major events, the change in money supply, and the buying power of the U.S. dollar in each decade.

A Short Timeline of U.S. Monetary History

1900s
After the Panic of 1907, the National Monetary Commission is established to propose legislation to regulate banking.

U.S. Money Supply: $7 billion
What $1 Could Buy: A pair of patent leather shoes.

1910s
The Federal Reserve Act is signed in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson.

U.S. Money Supply: $13 billion
What $1 Could Buy: A woman’s house dress.

1920s
U.S. dollar bills were reduced in size by 25%, and standardized in terms of design.

The Fed starts using open market operations as a tool for monetary policy.

U.S. Money Supply: $35 billion
What $1 Could Buy: Five pounds of sugar.

1930s
To deal with deflation during the Great Depression, the United States suspends the gold standard. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 6102, which criminalizes the possession of gold.

By no longer allowing gold to be legally redeemed, this removes a major constraint on the Fed, which can now control the money supply.

U.S. Money Supply: $46 billion
What $1 Could Buy: 16 cans of Campbell’s Soup

1940s
The massive deficits of World War II are almost financed entirely by the creation of new money by the Federal Reserve.

Interest rates are pegged low at the request of the Treasury.

Under Bretton-Woods, the “gold-exchange standard” is adopted.

U.S. Money Supply: $55 billion
What $1 Could Buy: 20 bottles of Coca-Cola

1950s
The Korean War starts in 1950, and inflation is at an annualized rate of 21%.

The Fed can no longer manage such low interest rates, and tells the Treasury that it can “no longer maintain the existing situation”.

U.S. Money Supply: $151 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One Mr. Potato Head

1960s
An agreement, called the Treasury-Federal Reserve Accord, is reached to establish the central bank’s independence.

By this time, U.S. dollars in circulation around the world exceeded U.S. gold reserves. Unless the situation was rectified, the country would be vulnerable to the currency equivalent of a “bank run”.

U.S. Money Supply: $211 billion
What $1 Could Buy: Two movie tickets.

1970s
In 1971, President Richard Nixon ends direct convertibility of the United States dollar to gold.

The period following the Nixon Shock is uncertain. The federal deficit doubles, stagflation hits, and the oil price skyrockets – all during the Vietnam War.

Over the decade, the dollar loses 1/3 of its value.

U.S. Money Supply: $401 billion
What $1 Could Buy: Three Morton TV dinners.

1980s
The stock market crashes in 1987 on Black Monday.

The Federal Reserve, under newly-appointed Alan Greenspan, issues the following statement:

“The Federal Reserve, consistent with its responsibilities as the nation’s central bank, affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system.”

The Dow would recover by 1989, with no prolonged recession occurring.

U.S. Money Supply: $1,560 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One bottle of Heinz Ketchup.

1990s
This decade is generally considered to be a time of declining inflation and the longest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history.

During this decade, many improvements are made to U.S. paper currency to prevent counterfeiting. Microprinting, security thread, and other features are used.

U.S. Money Supply: $3,277 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One gallon of milk.

2000s
After the Dotcom crash, the Fed drops interest rates to near all-time lows.

In 2008, the Financial Crisis hits and the Fed begins “quantitative easing”. Later, this would be known as QE1.

U.S. Money Supply: $4,917 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One Wendy’s hamburger.

2010-
After QE1, the Fed holds $2.1 trillion of bank debt, mortgage-backed securities, and Treasury notes. Shortly after, QE2 starts.

In 2012, it’s time for QE3.

Purchases were halted in October 2014 after accumulating $4.5 trillion in assets.

U.S. Money Supply: $13,291 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One song from iTunes.

The Changing Value of a Dollar

At the turn of the 20th century, the money supply was just $7 billion. Today there are literally 1,900X more dollars in existence.

While economic growth has meant we all make many more dollars today, it is still phenomenal to think that during past moments in the 20th century, a dollar could buy a pair of leather shoes or a women’s house dress.

The buying power of a dollar has changed significantly over the last century, but it’s important to recognize that it could change even faster (up or down) under the right economic circumstances.

About The Money Project

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

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Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative to the Global Financial System

What is decentralized finance? Learn how technology is changing the rules of the game, creating the potential for a new financial system to emerge.

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Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative

The global financial system has created massive wealth, but its centralized nature means the spoils have gone to the people who are best connected to the financial centers of the world.

As global inequality continues to rise, how can wealth building tools become more accessible to the rest of the global population?

Luckily, technological developments and their rapid adoption make this the right time for a new decentralized financial system to emerge:

  • The Internet: 3.9 billion users by the end of 2018
  • The proliferation of smartphones: Two-thirds of the unbanked have mobile phones
  • Digital banking: over 2 billion users by end of 2018
  • Bitcoin and Blockchain: the emergence of new public blockchains

Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights how public blockchains could help to enable a decentralized finance system.

What is Decentralized Finance?

Decentralized finance describes a new decentralized financial system that is built on public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum. After all, Bitcoin and Ethereum aren’t just digital currencies — they’re foundational open source networks that could be used to change how the global economy works.

There are six primary features that differentiate public blockchains from the private networks used by governments and traditional financial institutions:

  • Permissionless: Anyone in the world can connect to the network
  • Decentralized: Records are kept simultaneously across thousands of computers
  • Trustless: A central party isn’t required to ensure transactions are valid
  • Transparent: All transactions are publicly auditable
  • Censorship Resistant: A central party cannot invalidate user transactions
  • Programmable: Developers can program business logic into low-cost financial services

In such a financial system, users will have access to apps that use public blockchains to participate in new open global markets – but how would this shape the global financial system for the better?

The Potential Impact of Decentralized Finance

Here are five ways that decentralized finance will have an impact on the world:

1. Wider Global Access to Financial Services

With decentralized finance, anyone with an internet connection and a smartphone could access financial services. There are a variety of barriers that prevent access in the current system:

  • Status: Lack of citizenship, documentation, credentials, etc.
  • Wealth: High entry-level funds required to access financial services
  • Location: Vast distance from functioning economies and financial service providers

In a decentralized financial system, a top trader at a financial firm would have the same level of access as a farmer in a remote region of India.

2. Affordable Cross-Border Payments

Decentralized finance removes costly intermediaries to make remittance services more affordable for the global population.

In the current system, it’s prohibitively expensive for people to send money across borders: the average global remittance fee is 7%. Through decentralized financial services, remittance fees could be below 3%.

3. Improved Privacy and Security

In decentralized finance, users have custody of their wealth and can transact securely without validation from a central party. Meanwhile, in the current system, custodial institutions put people’s wealth and information at risk if they fail to secure it.

4. Censorship-Resistant Transactions

In a decentralized financial system, transactions are immutable and blockchains can’t be shut off by central institutions like governments, central banks, or big corporations.

In places with poor governance and authoritarianism, users can divest to the decentralized financial system to protect their wealth. For example, Venezuelans are already adopting Bitcoin to protect their wealth from government manipulation and hyperinflation.

5. Simple Use

Plug and play apps will allow people to intuitively use decentralized financial services without the complexity of the centralized system.

With a decentralized system, a woman in the Philippines could receive a loan from the U.S., invest in a business in Colombia, and then pay off her debt and purchase a home – all through interoperable apps.

The Potential Blue Sky

Unless governments and central banks suddenly cease to exist, it’s difficult to imagine a world where decentralized finance completely replaces their centralized counterparts.

But what if they can co-exist?

Public blockchains can interact with the traditional financial system to create a new hybrid model:

  • Users could conduct economic activity on public blockchains and exchange their new wealth into the centralized system.
  • Users could hedge against systemic risk by diversifying their wealth holdings in both the central and decentralized system.

Like the internet with knowledge, decentralized finance could help democratize the financial system.

But will we allow it?

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The 7 Major Flaws of the Global Financial System

Since the invention of banking, the global financial system has increasingly become more centralized. Here are the big flaws it has, as a result.

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The 7 Major Flaws of the Global Financial System

Since the invention of banking, the global financial system has become increasingly centralized.

In the modern system, central banks now control everything from interest rates to the issuance of currency, while government regulators, corporations, and intergovernmental organizations wield unparalleled influence at the top of this crucial food chain.

There is no doubt that this centralization has led to the creation of massive amounts of wealth, especially to those properly connected to the financial system. However, the same centralization has also arguably contributed to many global challenges and risks we face today.

Flaws of the Global Financial System

Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights the seven major flaws of the global financial system, ranging from the lack of basic access to financial services to growing inequality.

1. Billions of people globally remain unbanked
To participate in the global financial sector, whether it is to make a digital payment or manage one’s wealth, one must have access to a bank account. However, 1.7 billion adults worldwide remain unbanked, having zero access to an account with a financial institution or a mobile money provider.

2. Global financial literacy remains low
For people to successfully use financial services and markets, they must have some degree of financial literacy. According to a recent global survey, just 1-in-3 people show an understanding of basic financial concepts, with most of these people living in high income economies.

Without an understanding of key concepts in finance, it makes it difficult for the majority of the population to make the right decisions – and to build wealth.

3. High intermediary costs and slow transactions
Once a person has access to financial services, sending and storing money should be inexpensive and fast.

However, just the opposite is true. Around the globe, the average cost of a remittance is 7.01% in fees per transaction – and when using banks, that rises to 10.53%. Even worse, these transactions can take days at a time, which seems quite unnecessary in today’s digital era.

4. Low trust in financial institutions and governments
The financial sector is the least trusted business sector globally, with only a 57% level of trust according to Edelman. Meanwhile, trust in governments is even lower, with only 40% trusting the U.S. government, and the global country average sitting at 47%.

5. Rising global inequality
In a centralized system, financial markets tend to be dominated by those who are best connected to them.

These are people who have:

  • Access to many financial opportunities and asset classes
  • Capital to deploy
  • Informational advantages
  • Access to financial expertise

In fact, according to recent data on global wealth concentration, the top 1% own 47% of all household wealth, while the top 10% hold roughly 85%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the vast majority of people have little to no financial assets to even start building wealth. Not only are many people living paycheck to paycheck – but they also don’t have access to assets that can create wealth, like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or ETFs.

6. Currency manipulation and censorship
In a centralized system, countries have the power to manipulate and devalue fiat currencies, and this can have a devastating effect on markets and the lives of citizens.

In Venezuela, for example, the government has continually devalued its currency, creating runaway hyperinflation as a result. The last major currency manipulation in 2018 increased the price of a cup of coffee by over 772,400% in six months.

Further, centralized power also gives governments and financial institutions the ability to financially censor citizens, by taking actions such as freezing accounts, denying access to payment systems, removing funds from accounts, and denying the retrieval of funds during bank runs.

7. The build-up of systemic risk
Finally, centralization creates one final and important drawback.

With financial power concentrated with just a select few institutions, such as central banks and “too big too fail” companies, it means that one abject failure can decimate an entire system.

This happened in 2008 as U.S. subprime mortgages turned out to be an Achilles Heel for bank balance sheets, creating a ripple effect throughout the globe. Centralization means all eggs in one basket – and if that basket breaks it can possibly lead to the destruction of wealth on a large scale.

The Future of the Global Financial System?

The risks and drawbacks of centralization to the global financial system are well known, however there has never been much of a real alternative – until now.

With the proliferation of mobile phones and internet access, as well as the development of decentralization technologies like the blockchain, it may be possible to build an entirely new financial system.

But is the world ready?

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