The Shift from Commodity to Fiat or Debt money

The next stage in the evolution of money occurred in 1931 when the United States stopped allowing people in the country to convert paper money into gold. The value of money was still tied to the value of gold, and exchanges with foreign governments still occurred in gold. Then in 1971, the U.S. government declared that its currency would no longer be backed by gold, or anything else for that matter. This marked the final shift from commodity to fiat or debt money—paper that was used as evidence of a claim to economic value but that, legally, was not redeemable for anything.

As might be expected, with dollars backed by nothing, the money supply could rap- idly grow, and theoretically could then match or exceed the growth or potential growth of the economy. More importantly, the Federal Reserve in the United States (which serves as the U.S. central bank) and central banks in other countries could develop ways to control the money supply, ensuring that it grew fast enough to keep up with economic growth but not so fast that inflation resulted. Inflation would occur when the amount of money exceeded the value of goods and services that people demanded, thus driving up the prices as buyers competed for scarce resources. If, however, the supply of goods and services exceeded the money supply, prices would decline as sellers competed for limited dollars, which would lead to deflation. Thus, bal- ancing the amount of money in circulation with the goods and services that could be purchased was a major challenge for central banks, such as the U.S. Federal Reserve.

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