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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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Central Banks

The Silver Series: The Start of A New Gold-Silver Cycle (Part 1 of 3)

As the decade-long bull run shows signs of slowing, is it time for precious metals to shine? Here’s why it could be the start of a new gold-silver cycle.

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The world has experienced a decade of growth fueled by record-low interest rates, a burgeoning money supply, and historic debt levels – but the good times only last so long.

As the global economy slows and eventually begins to retract, can precious metals offer a useful store of value to investors?

Part 1: The Start of a New Cycle

Today’s infographic comes to us from Endeavour Silver, and it outlines some key indicators that precede a coming gold-silver cycle in which exposure to hard assets may help to protect wealth.

The Start of a New Gold-Silver Cycle

Bankers Blowing Bubbles

Since 2008, central bankers around the world launched a historic market intervention by printing money and bailing out major banks. With cheap and abundant money, this strategy worked so well that it created a bull market in every sector — except for precious metals.

Stock markets, consumer lending, and property values surged. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s assets ballooned, and so did corporate, government, and household debt. By 2018, total debt reached almost $250 trillion worldwide.

Currency vs. Precious Metals

The world awash in unprecedented amounts of currency, and these dollars chase a limited supply of goods. Historically speaking, it’s only a matter of time before the price of goods increases or inflates – eroding the purchasing power of every dollar.

Gold and silver are some of the only assets unaffected by inflation, retaining their value.

Gold and silver are money… everything else is credit.

– J.P. Morgan

The Perfect Story for a Gold-Silver Cycle?

Investors can use several indicators to gauge the beginning of the gold-silver cycle:

  1. Gold/Silver Futures

    Most traders do not trade physical gold and silver, but paper contracts with the promise to buy at a future price. Every week, U.S. commodity exchanges publish the Commitment of Traders “COT” report. This report summarizes the positions (long/short) of traders for a particular commodity.

    Typically, speculators are long and commercial traders are short the price of gold and silver. However, when speculators and commercial traders positions reach near zero, there is usually a big upswing in the price of silver.

  2. Gold-to-Silver Ratio Compression

    As the difference between gold and silver prices decreases (i.e. the compression of the ratio), history suggests silver prices can make big moves upwards in price. The gold-to-silver ratio compression is now at high levels and may eventually revert to its long-term average, which implies a strong movement in prices is imminent for silver.

  3. Scarcity: Declining Silver Production

    Silver production has been declining despite its growing importance as a safe haven hedge, as well as its use in industrial applications and renewable technologies.

  4. The Silver Exception

    Silver is not just for coins, bars, jewelry and the family silverware. It stands out from gold with its practical industrial uses which account for 56.1% of its annual consumption. Silver will continue to be a critical material in solar technology. While photovoltaics currently account for 8% of annual silver consumption, this is set to change with the dramatic increase in the use of solar technologies.

The Price of Gold and Silver

Forecasting the exact price of gold and silver is not a science, but there are clear signs that point to the direction their prices will head. The prices of gold and silver do not accurately reflect a world awash with cheap and easy money, but now may be their time to shine.

Don’t miss another part of the Silver Series by connecting with Visual Capitalist.

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Bitcoin

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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