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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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3D Map: The U.S. Cities With the Highest Economic Output

The total U.S. GDP stands at a whopping $21 trillion, but which metro areas contribute to the most in terms of economic output?

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US Cities by Economic Output

3D Map: The U.S. Cities With the Highest Economic Output

At over $21 trillion, the U.S. holds the title of the world’s largest economy—accounting for almost a quarter of the global GDP total. However, the fact is that a few select cities are responsible for a large share of the country’s total economic output.

This unique 3D map from HowMuch puts into perspective the city corridors which contribute the most to the American economy at large.

Top 10 Metros by Economic Output

The visualization pulls the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA, 2018), and ranks the top 10 metro area economies in the country.

One thing is immediately clear—the New York metro area dwarfs all other metro area by a large margin. This cluster, which includes Newark and Jersey City, is bigger than the metro areas surrounding Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

RankMetro AreaState codesGDP (2018)
#1New York-Newark-Jersey CityNY-NJ-PA $1.77T
#2Los Angeles-Long Beach-AnaheimCA$1.05T
#3Chicago-Naperville-ElginIL-IN-WI$0.69T
#4San Francisco-Oakland-BerkeleyCA$0.55T
#5Washington-Arlington-AlexandriaDC-VA-MD-WV$0.54T
#6Dallas-Fort Worth-ArlingtonTX$0.51T
#7Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar LandTX$0.48T
#8Boston-Cambridge-NewtonMA-NH$0.46T
#9Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington PA-NJ-DE-MD$0.44T
#10Atlanta-Sandy Springs-AlpharettaGA$0.40T
Total GDP$6.90T

Coming in fourth place is San Francisco on the West Coast, with $549 billion in total economic output each year. Meanwhile in the South, the Dallas metroplex brings in $478 billion, placing it sixth in the ranks.

It’s worth noting that using individual metro areas is one way to view things, but geographers also think of urban life in broader terms as well. Given the proximity of cities in the Northeast, places like Boston, NYC, and Washington, D.C. are sometimes grouped into a single megaregion. When viewed this way, the corridor is actually the world’s largest in economic terms.

U.S. States: Sum of Its Parts

Zooming out beyond just these massive cities demonstrates the combined might of the U.S. in another unique way. Tallying all the urban and rural areas, every state economy can be compared to the size of entire countries.

US States and Country Comparison by GDP 2018

According to the American Enterprise Institute, the state of California brings in a GDP that rivals the United Kingdom in its entirety.

By this same measure, Texas competes with Canada in terms of pure economic output, despite a total land area that’s 15 times less that of the Great White North.

With COVID-19 continuing to impact parts of the global economy disproportionately, how will these kinds of economic comparisons hold up in the future?

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Shapes of Recovery: When Will the Global Economy Bounce Back?

Economic recovery from COVID-19 could come in four shapes—L, U, W, and V. What do they mean, and what do global CEOs see as the most likely?

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The Shape of Economic Recovery, According to CEOs

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Whenever the economy is put through the ringer, levels of optimism and pessimism about its potential recovery can vary greatly. The current state mid-pandemic is no exception.

This graphic first details the various shapes that economic recovery can take, and what they mean. We then dive into which of the four scenarios are perceived the most likely to occur, based on predictions made by CEOs from around the world.

The ABCs of Economic Recovery

Economic recovery comes in four distinct shapes—L, U, W, and V. Here’s what each of these are characterized by, and how long they typically last.

  • L-shape
    This scenario exhibits a sharp decline in the economy, followed by a slow recovery period. It’s often punctuated by persistent unemployment, taking several years to recoup back to previous levels.
  • U-shape
    Also referred to as the “Nike Swoosh” recovery, in this scenario the economy stagnates for a few quarters and up to two years, before experiencing a relatively healthy rise back to its previous peak.
  • W-shape
    This scenario offers a tempting promise of recovery, dips back into a sharp decline, and then finally enters the full recovery period of up to two years. This is also known as a “double-dip recession“, similar to what was seen in the early 1980s.
  • V-shape
    In this best-case scenario, the sharp decline in the economy is quickly and immediately followed by a rapid recovery back to its previous peak in less than a year, bolstered especially by economic measures and strong consumer spending.

Another scenario not covered here is the Z-shape, defined by a boom after pent-up demand. However, it doesn’t quite make the cut for the present pandemic situation, as it’s considered even more optimistic than a V-shaped recovery.

Depending on who you ask, the sentiments about a post-pandemic recovery differ greatly. So which of these potential scenarios are we really dealing with?

How CEOs Think The Economy Could Recover

The think tank The Conference Board surveyed over 600 CEOs worldwide, to uncover how they feel about the likelihood of each recovery shape playing out in the near future.

The average CEO felt that economic recovery will follow a U-shaped trajectory (42%), eventually exhibiting a slow recovery coming out of Q3 of 2020—a moderately optimistic view.

However, geography seems to play a part in these CEO estimates of how rapidly things might revert back to “normal”. Over half of European CEOs (55%) project a U-shaped recovery, which is significantly higher than the global average. This could be because recent COVID-19 hotspots have mostly shifted to other areas outside of the continent, such as the U.S., India, and Brazil.

Here’s how responses vary by region:

RegionL-shapeU-shapeW-shapeV-shape
Global (N=606)32%42%16%11%
U.S. (N=103)26%42%23%9%
Europe (N=110)29%55%12%4%
China (N=122)25%43%11%21%
Japan (N=95)49%26%23%1%
Gulf Region (N=16)57%26%17%-

In the U.S. and Japan, 23% of CEOs expect a second contraction to occur, meaning that economic activity could undergo a W-shape recovery. Both countries have experienced quite the hit, but there are stark differences in their resultant unemployment rates—15% at its peak in the U.S., but a mere 2.6% in Japan.

In China, 21% of CEOs—or one in five—anticipate a quick, V-shaped recovery. This is the most optimistic outlook of any region, and with good reason. Although economic growth contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter, China has bounced back to a 3.2% growth rate in the second quarter.

Finally, Gulf Region CEOs feel the most pessimistic about potential economic recovery. In the face of an oil shock, 57% predict the economy will see an L-shaped recovery that could result in depression-style stagnation in years to come.

The Economic Recovery, According to Risk Analysts

At the end of the day, CEO opinions are all over the map on the potential shape of the economic recovery—and this variance likely stems from geography, cultural biases, and of course the status of their own individual countries and industries.

Despite this, portions of all cohorts saw some possibility of an extended and drawn-out recovery. Earlier in the year, risk analysts surveyed by the World Economic Forum had similar thoughts, projecting a prolonged recession as the top risk of the post-COVID fallout.

It remains to be seen whether this will ultimately indeed be the trajectory we’re in store for.

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