After the Dollar

NEW YORK – It is symbolic that the recent BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, took place exactly seven decades after the Bretton Woods Conference that created the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The upshot of the BRICS meeting was the announcement of the New Development Bank, which will mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects, and a Contingent Reserve Arrangement to provide liquidity through currency swaps.

The Bretton Woods Conference marked one of history’s greatest examples of international economic cooperation. And, while no one can say yet whether the BRICS’ initiatives will succeed, they represent a major challenge to the Bretton Woods institutions, which should respond. Rethinking the role of the US dollar in the international monetary system is a case in point.

One key feature of the Bretton Woods system was that countries would tie their exchange rates to the US dollar. While the system was effectively eliminated in 1971, the US dollar’s central role in the international monetary system has remained intact – a reality that many countries are increasingly unwilling to accept.

Dissatisfaction with the dollar’s role as the dominant global reserve currency is not new. In the 1960s, French Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing famously condemned the “exorbitant privilege” that the dollar’s status bestowed upon the United States.