Skip to content
SuperMoney logo
SuperMoney logo

Smithsonian Agreement: How It Works, Legacy, and Lessons

Last updated 03/18/2024 by

Bamigbola Paul

Edited by

Fact checked by

The Smithsonian Agreement, born out of the economic complexities of the 1970s, reshaped the global financial landscape by introducing a new standard for the U.S. dollar. This article delves into the intricacies of the agreement, its impact on the Bretton Woods system, and the eventual shift away from the gold standard, exploring the reasons behind its initiation and the factors contributing to its short-lived existence.

The Smithsonian Agreement: reshaping global finance

The Smithsonian Agreement, negotiated in December 1971 among ten leading developed nations, played a pivotal role in revamping the international monetary system. This article explores the key aspects of the agreement, its historical context, and the implications that reverberated throughout the global economy.

The Bretton Woods system unraveling

The foundation for the Smithsonian Agreement was laid upon the crumbling structure of the Bretton Woods Agreement. Initiated with gold as the anchor, this complex system faced challenges in the 1960s as the global gold reserves proved insufficient to meet escalating demands for international reserves. The Smithsonian Agreement aimed to address these issues but fell short, lasting a mere 15 months before the entire system collapsed.

The trigger: Nixon’s policy shift

The Smithsonian Agreement became imperative when President Richard Nixon halted the exchange of U.S. dollars for gold in August 1971. Escalating U.S. inflation rates destabilized the existing system, prompting a shift towards foreign currencies and gold. This crisis led to negotiations within the Group of Ten (G-10), culminating in the Smithsonian Agreement in December 1971.
The agreement devalued the U.S. dollar by 8.5% against gold, raising the price of an ounce from $35 to $38. Other G-10 nations also agreed to revalue their currencies against the U.S. dollar.

The deterioration and the shift to floating exchange rates

Despite the initial optimism, the par value system continued to deteriorate. Speculators drove many foreign currencies and the value of gold higher. In February 1973, the U.S. unilaterally devalued its dollar by 10%, raising the price of gold to $42 per ounce. This marked the tipping point, with major currencies shifting from fixed to floating exchange rates relative to the U.S. dollar.

End of the gold standard

President Nixon’s decision to “close the gold window” marked the U.S. withdrawal from setting a fixed price for gold, officially ending the commitment to the gold standard. The U.S. dollar transitioned into a fiat currency, solidifying the shift away from the gold standard that began in the early 1930s.
The decisions made in the wake of the Smithsonian Agreement completed the trajectory away from the gold standard, set in motion when Congress barred creditors from demanding repayment in gold in the 1930s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s resolution further accelerated this transition.
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.
  • Paved the way for a new dollar standard
  • Addressed the instability caused by U.S. President Nixon’s decisions
  • Lasted only 15 months
  • Failed to resolve underlying issues of the Bretton Woods system

The global economic ramifications

The Smithsonian Agreement not only reshaped the dynamics of the U.S. dollar but had far-reaching consequences on the global economy. As the industrialized nations pegged their currencies to the U.S. dollar, a chain reaction unfolded, influencing trade balances, capital flows, and economic policies worldwide.
For instance, European nations experienced both advantages and challenges. While the peg to the U.S. dollar provided stability, it also exposed them to the fluctuations of the U.S. economy. This interdependence would later play a role in shaping discussions around currency cooperation and the eventual formation of the European Monetary System in 1979.

The unraveling of the Smithsonian Agreement

Despite the initial optimism surrounding the Smithsonian Agreement, challenges persisted. Speculative pressures and economic shifts led to the agreement’s unraveling. Dive deeper into the intricacies of the events that transpired during the 15 months of the agreement and the specific factors that contributed to its ultimate demise.
One notable aspect was the discrepancy between the devaluation of the U.S. dollar and the actual economic conditions. Analyzing the economic indicators and policy decisions during this period sheds light on why the initial efforts to stabilize the international monetary system fell short.

Legacy and lessons learned

The Smithsonian Agreement, though short-lived, left a lasting legacy in the realm of international finance. Explore the lessons learned from this episode in economic history and how it paved the way for subsequent developments, including the shift towards floating exchange rates and the evolution of global monetary systems.
Understanding the legacy of the Smithsonian Agreement is crucial for policymakers and economists, providing insights into the challenges and opportunities inherent in crafting international monetary agreements and navigating the complexities of a rapidly changing global economy.


The Smithsonian Agreement, though short-lived, left an indelible mark on the global monetary system. Its attempt to address the shortcomings of the Bretton Woods system and the subsequent shift away from the gold standard reshaped the dynamics of international finance. Understanding this historical episode provides valuable insights into the complexities that shape the world of economics.

Frequently asked questions

What were the primary factors that led to the collapse of the Bretton Woods Agreement?

The Bretton Woods Agreement faced challenges in the 1960s as the global stock of gold became insufficient to meet the increasing demand for international reserves. This instability, coupled with escalating U.S. inflation rates, set the stage for the collapse.

How did the Smithsonian Agreement impact developing nations and emerging markets?

The repercussions of the Smithsonian Agreement extended beyond the G-10 nations, affecting developing nations and emerging markets. The shifts in the international monetary system had a domino effect, presenting challenges for economies closely tied to the G-10 nations.

Why did President Nixon’s decision to stop gold exchanges trigger a crisis?

President Nixon’s choice to halt the exchange of U.S. dollars for gold in 1971 disrupted the existing monetary system. This decision, influenced by rising U.S. inflation, led to a shift away from the U.S. dollar, prompting a crisis that necessitated the negotiations resulting in the Smithsonian Agreement.

What role did speculators play in the demise of the Smithsonian Agreement?

Speculators played a pivotal role in hastening the demise of the Smithsonian Agreement. Anticipating further adjustments and exploiting market dynamics, they pushed foreign currencies beyond their new valuation limits. This speculative activity contributed to the transition from fixed to floating exchange rates.

How did the legacy of the Smithsonian Agreement influence subsequent international monetary systems?

The legacy of the Smithsonian Agreement serves as a case study for policymakers and economists. Its impact resonated in the post-Smithsonian era, influencing economic policies, currency realignments, and the ongoing exploration of alternative monetary frameworks. Understanding this legacy provides insights for navigating contemporary challenges in global finance.

Key takeaways

  • The Smithsonian Agreement reshaped global finance, introducing a new standard for the U.S. dollar.
  • It addressed the shortcomings of the Bretton Woods system but lasted only 15 months, succumbing to speculator-driven pressures.
  • The agreement marked the end of the gold standard, transitioning the U.S. dollar into a fiat currency.
  • Global ramifications extended beyond G-10 nations, impacting developing economies and setting the stage for post-Smithsonian developments.
  • Understanding the legacy of the Smithsonian Agreement provides valuable insights into navigating contemporary challenges in international finance.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

Loading results ...

You might also like