THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
The U.S. is sitting on top of a horizontal empire, capitalism’s self-organizing, incentive-based structure with its layers of value. It’s not the Marxist mush of “to each according to his needs.” You gotta earn your spot. Think of the U.S. dollar as the thread or even the duct tape that binds the layers together. Nearly 60% of the $12.8 trillion in world-wide currency reserves are dollars. Is America’s “exorbitant privilege”—the almighty dollar as the world’s leading reserve currency—under threat? Should you even care?
Sanctions have bitten Russia. A huge chunk of its $630 billion in foreign reserves are frozen. Oligarchs’ yachts have been seized. Visa, Mastercard and American Express suspended service in Russia. Apple and Google Pay stoppage stranded cashless travelers on Moscow’s metro. From Netflix to Nike, voluntary sanctions are in force.
Was cutting Russia out of the global financial system the right move? Naysayers think this is the beginning of the end of the dollar as the reserve currency because Russia will cozy up to China and adopt the yuan or pivot to cryptocurrencies. China may start dumping dollars. In fact, since 2014 China and Russia have severely reduced their dependence on the dollar for bilateral trade.
The dollar has been the world’s reserve currency since the Bretton Woods Agreement in July 1944, with the dollar pegged to gold and other allied currencies pegged to the dollar. This wasn’t some bureaucratic pronouncement. The U.S. was in a position of strength after funding the allied effort in World War II. America almost lost this privileged status in 1971 when deficits from war and welfare led President Richard Nixon to drop the gold standard.