– Ron Paul Says: Watch The Petrodollar (Casey Research, Nov 5, 2014):
“The chaos that one day will ensue from our 35-year experiment with worldwide fiat money will require a return to money of real value. We will know that day is approaching when oil-producing countries demand gold, or its equivalent, for their oil rather than dollars or euros. The sooner the better.”
– Ron Paul
Dr. Paul is referring to the petrodollar system, one of the main pillars that’s been holding up the US dollar’s status as the world’s premier reserve currency since the breakdown of Bretton Woods.
Want to know when the fiat US dollar will collapse? Watch the petrodollar system and the factors affecting it. This is critically important, because once the dollar loses its coveted reserve status, the consequences will be dire for Americans.
At that moment, I believe Washington will become sufficiently desperate to enforce the radical measures that governments throughout world history have always implemented when their currencies were threatened—overt capital controls, wealth confiscation, people controls, price and wage controls, pension nationalizations, etc.
And there’s more. The destruction of the dollar will wipe out most people’s wealth, leading to political and social consequences that will likely be worse than the financial consequences.
From Bretton Woods to the Petrodollar
The dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency was first established in 1944, with the Bretton Woods international monetary system. The US—victorious in WWII, and possessing the overwhelmingly largest gold reserves in the world (around 717 million ounces)—could reconstruct the global monetary system with the dollar at its center.
The Bretton Woods arrangement linked another country’s currency to the US dollar at a fixed exchange rate, and the US dollar was tied to gold, also at a fixed exchange rate. Countries accumulated dollars in their reserves to engage in international trade or to exchange them with the US government for gold at $35 an ounce.
By the late 1960s, exuberant spending from welfare and warfare—combined with the Federal Reserve monetizing the deficits—drastically increased the number of dollars in circulation in relation to the gold backing it.
This monetary inflation caused nervous countries to accelerate their exchange of dollars for gold at $35. The result was a serious drain on the US gold supply (from 20,000 tonnes to around 290 million ounces by 1971, an amount it supposedly still holds).
With gold reserves shrinking rapidly, President Nixon officially ended convertibility of the dollar to gold, thus ending the Bretton Woods system on August 15, 1971. It was a default, and it took with it the main reason countries primarily held their reserves in dollars. The buck’s preeminent value in international trade was gone. Demand for dollars by foreign nations was sure to fall, along with its purchasing power.
That hurt OPEC, whose members were the world’s leading suppliers of a commodity even more valuable than gold: oil. OPEC countries needed a way to retain the real value of their earnings in the face of a declining currency, without having to jack the price of oil sky high.
If the dollar was to remain strong, it had to reinvent its status as the world’s reserve currency, and that required a new world financial arrangement, one which would give foreign nations an ironclad reason to hold and use dollars. Nixon dispatched his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to Saudi Arabia.
The Petrodollar System
Between 1972 and 1974, the US and Saudi governments created the petrodollar system.
Saudi Arabia was chosen because of its vast petroleum reserves, its dominant influence in OPEC, and the (correct) perception that the Saudi royal family was corruptible.
Under the new petrodollar system, the US guaranteed the survival of the House of Saud by providing a total commitment to its political and military security. In return, Saudi Arabia agreed to:
- Use its dominant influence in OPEC to ensure that all global oil transactions would be conducted only in US dollars.
- Invest a large amount of its oil revenue in US Treasury securities and use the interest income from those securities to pay US companies to modernize the infrastructure of Saudi Arabia.
- Guarantee the price of oil within limits acceptable to the US and act to prevent another oil embargo by other OPEC members.
No dollars, no access to the world’s most important commodity. It’s a very compelling reason to hold your reserves in dollars.
For example, if Italy wants to buy oil from Kuwait, it has to first purchase US dollars on the foreign exchange market to pay for the oil, thus creating an artificial demand for US dollars that wouldn’t exist if Italy could pay in euros.
The US is just a toll collector in a transaction that has nothing to do with a product or service. But that translates into increased purchasing power and a deeper, more liquid market for the dollar and Treasuries.
Additionally, the US has the unique privilege of using its own currency—which it can print at will—to purchase its imports, including oil.
The benefits of the petrodollar system to the US are impossible to overstate.
What to Watch For
Today, the geopolitical sands of the Middle East are rapidly shifting.
The faltering strategic regional position of Saudi Arabia, the rise of Iran (which is not part of the petrodollar system), failed US interventions, Russia’s increasing power as an energy giant, and the emergence of the BRICS nations (which offer the potential of future alternative economic/security arrangements) all affect the sustainability of the petrodollar system.
My colleague Marin Katusa’s mentioned in his book; The Colder War, you need to be aware of what Vladimir Putin is doing. Putin would like nothing more than to sabotage the petrodollar, and he’s forging alliances across the planet that he hopes will help him achieve his goal.
At the same time, you should watch the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, which has been deteriorating.
The Saudis are furious at what they perceive to be the US not holding up its end of the petrodollar deal. They believe that as part of the US commitment to keep the region safe for the monarchy, the US should have attacked its regional rivals Syria and Iran by now. And they may feel they are no longer obliged to uphold their part of the deal, namely selling their oil only in US dollars.
They’re already heavily involved with China and could also tilt toward Russia. Oil traded in rubles or yuan could be the future result—a death knell for the petrodollar.
It was evident long before Nixon closed the gold window and ended the Bretton Woods system in 1971 that a paradigm shift in the global monetary system was inevitable.
Now another shift also seems inevitable. Ron Paul’s words alert us as to when a dollar collapse is imminent.
“We will know that day is approaching when oil-producing countries demand gold, or its equivalent, for their oil rather than dollars or euros.”
Someday, perhaps soon, Americans will wake up to a new reality, like they did on August 15, 1971.