Lewis Lehrman: The Nixon shock heard 'round the world


By severing the dollar's convertibility to gold in 1971, the president ushered in a decade of inflation and economic stagnation.

By Lewis E. Lehrman
The Wall Street Journal
Monday, August 15, 2011


On the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 13, 1971, high-ranking White House and Treasury Department officials gathered secretly in President Richard Nixon's lodge at Camp David.

Treasury Secretary John Connally, on the job for just seven months, was seated to Nixon's right. During that momentous afternoon, however, newcomer Connally was front and center, put there by a solicitous president. Nixon, gossiped his staff, was smitten by the big, self-confident Texan whom the president had charged with bringing order into his administration's bumbling economic policies.

In the past, Nixon had expressed economic views that tended toward "conservative" platitudes about free enterprise and free markets. But the president loved histrionic gestures that grabbed the public's attention. He and Connally were determined to present a comprehensive package of dramatic measures to deal with the nation's huge balance of payments deficit, its anemic economic growth, and inflation.

... Dispatch continues below ...


Lewis E. Lehrman on How to Solve the U.S. Debt Problem

Lewis E. Lehrman, chairman of the Lehrman Institute, sponsor of The Gold Standard Now project, advises that to reduce the $1 1/2 trillion U.S. deficit, the Republican Party must initiate an investment program.

Working Americans are not saving, which enables the banks to lead the country into a cycle of debt, leverage, boom, panic, and bust.

Lehrman says: Eliminating the budget deficit of a trillion and a half dollars cannot be done overnight. The proposal by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan was very dramatic -- one Republican called it radical -- but it was not happily received. The solution, of course, is to design an American program for prosperity, because you can solve these entitlement problems with a growing economy. We need a tremendous program of investment, and investment comes from savings. When you pay savers, middle-income professionals, and working people 0 percent at the bank, you are not going to encourage them to save. Then we are left with a bank cycle of debt, leverage, boom, panic, and bust."

To read more and to sign up for The Gold Standard Now's free, noncommercial, weekly report, "Prosperity through Gold," please visit:


Dramatic indeed: They decided to break up the postwar Bretton Woods monetary system, to devalue the dollar, to raise tariffs, and to impose the first peacetime wage and price controls in American history. And they were going to do it on the weekend -- heralding this astonishing news with a Nixon speech before the markets opened on Monday.

The cast of characters gathered at Camp David was impressive. It included future Treasury Secretary George Shultz, then director of the Office of Management and Budget, and future Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, then undersecretary for monetary affairs at Treasury. At the meeting that afternoon Nixon reminded everyone of the importance of secrecy. They were forbidden even to tell their wives where they were. Then Nixon let Connally take over the meeting.

The most dramatic Connally initiative was to "close the gold window," whereby foreign nations had been able to exchange U.S. dollars for U.S. gold—an exchange guaranteed under the monetary system set up under American leadership at Bretton Woods, N.H., in July 1944. Recently the markets had panicked. Great Britain had tried to redeem $3 billion for American gold. So large were the official dollar debts in the hands of foreign authorities that America's gold stock would be insufficient to meet the swelling official demand for American gold at the convertibility price of $35 per ounce.

On Thursday, Connally had rushed to Washington from a Texas vacation. He and Nixon hurriedly decided to act unilaterally, not only to suspend convertibility of the dollar to gold, but also to impose wage and price controls. Nixon's speechwriter William Safire attended the conference to prepare the president's speech to the nation. In his book "Before the Fall," Safire recalled being told on the way to Camp David that closing the gold window was a possibility. Despite the many international ramifications of what the administration would do, no officials from the State Department or the National Security Council were invited to Camp David.

The president had little patience or understanding of the disputes among his economic team members. He found wearisome the mumbo-jumbo from Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns. But the president had determined he would have a unified economic team and a unified economic policy, no matter what the consequences. So the White House dutifully leaked stories designed to undermine and humiliate Burns, as Connally waited in the wings with his "New Economic Policy."

At Camp David, Connally argued: "It's clear that we have to move in the international field, to close the gold window, not change the price of gold, and encourage the dollar to float." Burns timidly objected but was easily flattered by the president. By the evening of Aug. 15 Burns was on board with terminating the last vestige of dollar convertibility to gold, depreciating the dollar on the foreign exchanges, imposing higher tariffs, and ultimately ordering price and wage controls.

Nixon and Safire put together a speech to be televised Sunday night. It had taken only a few hours during that August 1971 weekend for Nixon to decide to sever the nation's last tenuous link to the historic American gold standard, a monetary standard that had been the constitutional bedrock (Article I, Sections 8 and 10) of the American dollar and of America's economic prosperity for much of the previous two centuries.

At least one Camp David participant, Paul Volcker, regretted what transpired that weekend. The "Nixon Shock" was followed by a decade of one of the worst inflations of American history and the most stagnant economy since the Great Depression. The price of gold rose to $800 from $35.

The purchasing power of a dollar saved in 1971 under Nixon has today fallen to 18 pennies. Nixon's new economic policy sowed chaos for a decade. The nation and the world reaped the whirlwind.


Mr. Lehrman is chairman of the Lehrman Institute.

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Sona Drills 85.4g Gold/Ton Over 4 Metres at Elizabeth Gold Deposit,
Extending the Mineralization of the Southwest Vein on the Property

Company Press Release, October 27, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Sona Resources Corp. reports on five drillling holes in the third round of assay results from the recently completed drill program at its 100 percent-owned Elizabeth Gold Deposit Property in the Lillooet Mining District of southern British Columbia. Highlights from the diamond drilling include:

-- Hole E10-66 intersected 17.4g gold/ton over 1.54 metres.

-- Hole E10-67 intersected 96.4g gold/ton over 2.5 metres, including one assay interval of 383g of gold/ton over 0.5 metres.

-- Hole E10-69 intersected 85.4g gold/ton over 4.03 metres, including one assay interval of 230g gold/ton over 1 metre.

Four drill holes, E10-66 to E10-69, targeted the southwestern end of the Southwest Vein, and three of the holes have expanded the mineralized zone in that direction. The Southwest Vein gold mineralization has now been intersected over a strike length of 325 metres, with the deepest hole drilled less than 200 metres from surface.

"The assay results from the Southwest Zone quartz vein continue to be extremely positive," says John P. Thompson, Sona's president and CEO. "We are expanding the Southwest Vein, and this high-grade gold mineralization remains wide open down dip and along strike to the southwest."

For the company's full press release, please visit: