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WTF happened in 1971 (and why the f**k it matters so much right now) – Cointelegraph Magazine


In the event you’ve ventured on to Crypto Twitter this yr, you will have seen a tweet from the meme account WTF Occurred in 1971?

Created in March, the account posts quite a few instances per week to its quick rising fanbase of 10,500 followers. A typical submit contains a graph that exhibits how inequality has grown lately, inflation has skyrocketed and the way odd persons are being priced out of homes and shares resulting from low wage development. Someplace on the chart there might be somewhat arrow pointing at 1971, which highlights when the rot set in.

And it invariably poses a query like: “WTF occurred to wages in 1971?” Or, on a chart exhibiting ever-widening political polarization: “WTF occurred in 1971 that led to such a divergence in political thought?”

Its followers discover comparable phenomena and contribute to the meme by tagging them in. This week somebody reposted a New York Put up article exhibiting a decline within the happiness of decrease socio-economic standing white adults because the early Nineteen Seventies, asking: “Gee I ponder #wtfhappenedin1971???’


Income Gains since 1971


So what did occur in 1971?

The WTF Occurred in 1971 website suggests that each one of those disparate results are linked to President Richard Nixon calling time on the Bretton Woods monetary system which tied the worth of the world’s reserve foreign money — the U.S. greenback — to gold.

The ‘gold commonplace’ as it’s identified, underpinned world finance from 1944, when the World Struggle II Allied Nations, together with the U.S., Canada, Western European nations, Australia and Japan, negotiated the foundations of the worldwide financial system with mounted change charges between currencies. This occurred at a resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. On the time the U.S. managed two thirds of the world’s gold and insisted the system was primarily based on gold and the US greenback.

The system meant that in principle you would redeem $35 USD for one ounce of gold  – though in precise reality it was illegal for US citizens to hold gold between 1933 and 1974 after the federal government bumped into bother backing the foreign money in the course of the Nice Melancholy. International governments might commerce {dollars} for gold at that price nonetheless. The federal government once more bumped into bother backing the foreign money with gold within the late Nineteen Sixties, after printing an excessive amount of cash to pay for issues just like the Vietnam struggle and varied welfare packages, which was the rationale for Nixon killing the system on August 15, 1971.


Real Wages since 1971


Yeah, but it surely was a superb factor

The results of this are contested to say the least. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) for instance means that fears on the time that the transfer away from gold would deliver the period of speedy development to an finish had been misplaced. “The truth is, the transition to floating change charges was comparatively clean, and it was definitely well timed: versatile change charges made it simpler for economies to regulate to costlier oil, when the value instantly began going up in October 1973. Floating charges have facilitated changes to exterior shocks ever since.”

For a lot of conventional Keynesian economists leaving the gold commonplace behind has offered governments with the pliability to make use of activist financial and monetary insurance policies to reply to, or forestall, financial crises. For instance, with out the Federal Reserves ‘limitless’ quantitative easing program (cash printing) this yr, the economic system might have fallen into such a deep gap the U.S. might by no means have clambered out of it. And Greece’s lack of ability to inflate itself out of its sovereign debt disaster within the years after the worldwide monetary disaster was a part of the rationale it needed to embrace crippling austerity measures. Surveys of mainstream economists counsel that 9 out of 10 assume returning to the gold commonplace could be a catastrophe.

No, leaving the gold commonplace was a catastrophe

However WTF 1971 tells a unique story. It showcases varied graphs highlighting that from 1971 onwards productiveness elevated whereas wages flatlined; GDP surged however the share going to staff plummeted; and home costs went via the roof resulting in Individuals’ ‘financial savings’ turning into inextricably tied to house values. It means that all over the world episodes of hyperinflation elevated, currencies crashed extra often and there was a spike within the variety of banking crises. The non-public financial savings price fell off a cliff, the incarceration price went up by an element of 5, divorce charges shot up and the variety of folks of their late 20’s dwelling with their mother and father elevated exponentially.

Most horrifyingly of all, the variety of legal professionals quadrupled.


Population per lawyer since 1971


The location and Twitter account was based by former 3D graphics designer Ben Prentice and Bitcoin podcaster Heavily Armed Clown — also called Collin from The Bitcoin Echo Chamber. Each reside on the east coast of the U.S., and met when Prentice pitched himself as a visitor on Collin’s podcast.

Prentice found Bitcoin in 2017 and fell deep into the Austrian economics rabbit gap. That’s a strand of heterodox economics beloved by goldbugs that implies Keynesian economists have gotten all of it mistaken, fiat is worthless paper and gold is the reply. Though vastly influential amongst Bitcoiners, Austrian economics is shunned by mainstream economists and often criticized for missing scientific rigor and never relying sufficient on mathematical fashions and macroeconomic evaluation. 

“Austrian economics is de facto simply attempting to dispel the logical fallacies inherent in Keynesian logic, beginning at first ideas after which constructing you approach up from there,” says Prentice. Nonetheless the pair have one main distinction to the Austrians in that they imagine Bitcoin is the reply that gold by no means was, he continues:

Our perception is that gold itself failed as a cash. And that’s laborious for the Austrians to get as a result of they’ve been advocating for gold for thus lengthy. However the motive gold failed as cash is as a result of we needed to give you paper within the first place to scale it and we all know what number of issues include paper.

Collin says he was buying and selling penny shares, alternating between pump and dumps and a worth investing technique “which isn’t actually an actual factor” when he stumbled throughout Presidential candidate Ron Paul’s End the Fed whereas researching the underlying causes of the 2008 World Monetary Disaster. This led to the work of famed Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard — who coined the time period anarcho capitalism.

“That’s the place we discovered commonality,” says Collin. “And it was between our financial discussions speaking about historical past, speaking about cash, speaking about human motion, that we stumbled on numerous inflection factors within the knowledge, which occurred round 1971.”

The primary few graphs for the positioning had been taken from the Wikipedia entry on Bretton Woods, they usually stored seeing an increasing number of charts that steered the identical factor.



“We began gathering these and different ones,” says Prentice. “We began arguing with economists on Twitter and ultimately, I believe it was Collin’s thought, he was like: ‘Nicely, we’ll simply throw these up on an internet site and simply ask WTF Occurred?’ and the remainder is historical past.”

To this point in 2020, the positioning has had round 400,000 guests, and is rising its viewers month on month.

Collin says they’ve thought-about their arguments rigorously.

“We spend the overwhelming majority of every single day particularly Ben and I simply in personal, discussing this stuff backwards and forwards and sending, , attempting to poke holes in our concepts.”

Rising inequality the consequence

The obvious impact of transferring away from the gold commonplace, was the flexibility for governments to print as a lot cash as their hearts desired. As Collin places it:

The temptation to print cash is the best temptation in the entire world.

For instance how this harms people, Prentice makes use of the analogy of a pie as representing the economic system, with the slices representing the cash in circulation. “As we’re printing more cash, all we’re doing is taking present slices and making them smaller and smaller and smaller,” he explains. “Every unit is now price much less. Nothing new has been created. You continue to have the identical pie, however now your slice of the pie is far smaller than it was earlier than.”

Collin says that this ends in folks attempting to retailer their wealth in different methods, which has resulted in runaway asset worth inflation since 1971.

“When cash is debased, and it loses its worth over time, folks retailer their wealth in property,” he says. “That’s why it’s frequent monetary knowledge, to diversify your property, to spend money on shares to spend money on bonds to spend money on gold, purchase a home. The extra property you personal, the higher off you’ll be in the long term, as a result of all of these property are going to extend in worth due to inflation.”

The online impact is a large enhance in financial inequality as a result of the wealthier you’re, the bigger the proportion of wealth you’ll be able to afford to carry in illiquid, risky property. Working Joes nonetheless — the median family web price in America is $97,300 must dedicate most of their {dollars} to hire and meals and insurance coverage, and have a bigger share of capital in depreciating property like automobiles.

“This technique could be very, very a lot tilted in direction of the rich,” says Prentice. “A really rich individual would maintain 80 to 90% of their wealth in enterprise pursuits and equities, proper, and people inflate. That is the cash of the rich, however the entry to these property is nearly nil for the poorest.”

This might be much less of an issue if wages had stored up with inflation. Whereas common hourly wages within the US have roughly elevated consistent with CPI, that’s only one technique to measure inflation. One of the telling charts on the positioning exhibits that the variety of working hours to purchase a single unit of the S&P 500 has elevated to an all time high of 126 hours today, up from a median of 30.9 hours since 1860.


Buy the S&P cost since 1971


Relying on how deep down the rabbit gap you need to go, there are ramifications all over the place.

Collin explains there’s an financial calculation that may be carried out usually whereby as capital is accrued in financial institution financial savings accounts, rates of interest come down. “Then persons are extra more likely to borrow cash and exit and attempt to have interaction in new productive ventures,” he says. “Creating new cash and artificially suppressing the central financial institution rate of interest is distorting that financial calculation.”

He says our loopy monetary system is the rationale vastly worthwhile firms like Apple nonetheless borrow billions of {dollars} to purchase again their very own inventory.

“Why would they borrow cash which they then have to make use of to pay curiosity with the intention to purchase again their very own stuff? The reply is the substitute price of property is larger than the substitute price of capital.” 

Just like the well-known chapter of Freakonomics that linked the Roe vs Wade Supreme Courtroom choice on entry to abortion within the 1970’s to the decrease in crime 20 years later, they’re additionally not discounting some much less intuitive ramifications.

“We imagine that numerous second, third, fourth and fifth order results occur as ripple results that occur outwards of financial coverage,” explains Collin.

Once we take a look at issues like weight problems, proper, and also you say that isn’t associated to the tip of the gold commonplace. Are you positive? As a result of folks must eat a complete lot extra sponsored meals than they did 60 years in the past and in America, the primary sponsored crops are sugar and corn.

They now imagine the system has turn into so distorted, it’s now not real capitalism. Collin factors to the 52% of young adults who are actually pressured to reside at house with their mother and father as an alternative of constructing their very own wealth, shopping for a home and beginning their very own households. “You possibly can’t afford to do any of these issues and also you simply take a look at the system that exists and also you say: that is damaged, proper? You’ve at all times believed in capitalism, however now you’re seeing this technique that they’ve referred to as capitalism is damaged. However Ben and I posit that this isn’t capitalism, that is one thing utterly completely different. That is social monetarism.”

Though there are some fairly apparent drivers of the 100 days of protests and riots in America following the loss of life of George Floyd, rising inequality has performed a giant position, says Prentice.

“I completely assume so. I believe that folks get out within the streets when issues aren’t going properly. Individuals are pissed off, as a result of they don’t really feel like this technique is working in any respect, and that they work their complete lives at crappy jobs.”

However possibly they’re mistaken

Collin and Prentice sound fairly convincing, however economics is a frustratingly advanced space and even the world’s finest economists are often approach off. In December 2007 the Wall Avenue Journal requested 51 economists to foretell what would occur in 2008. Not a single economist predicted a recession, a lot much less the dramatic occasions of the World Monetary Disaster, although the subprime mortgage crisis had begun 5 months earlier.

Despite the fact that the charts on the positioning present a robust correlation between the tip of the gold commonplace and a wide range of various things, that doesn’t show it precipitated the problem. Correlation isn’t causation: For instance the variety of movies Nicolas Cage appeared in between 1999 and 2009 strongly correlates with the quantity of people that drowned by falling right into a pool throughout the identical interval. The rise in per capita cheese consumption between 2000 and 2009 virtually completely matches the quantity of people that died by turning into tangled in their bedsheets.


Cheese Consumption 1971


Collin concedes that a number of the charts might merely present a correlation.

“We get lots of people who assume that we’re attributing issues to the tip of Bretton Woods that we shouldn’t be,” says Collin. “And possibly in somewhat approach, generally we do, as a result of to be utterly trustworthy, the web site is a meme. We embrace that. We love that. That’s what’s made it so standard and anytime we discover any chart that has an uncommon inflection level in 1971, you higher imagine it’s occurring there,” he says.

Prentice provides: “We simply put a bunch of knowledge on an internet site and requested a query, proper? So we’ve tried to not like clarify all these charts on the web site. We simply need it to exist and let folks reply their very own questions and allow them to debate amongst themselves.”

And naturally different issues occurred in 1971: Disney World opened, the Monkees broke up. Might this stuff assist clarify why that yr modified all the pieces?

“The one which we see probably the most is that somebody says ‘I used to be born that yr. This was all my fault’,” says Collin.

A extra critical try to elucidate the key financial adjustments the charts present, is to attribute them to the wave of deregulation that swept over superior economies within the 1970’s and 1980’s. Prentice says that he’d wrestled with this as a result of from his libertarian, anarcho-capitalist influenced world view, all the pieces ought to have turn into so significantly better.

“Why did all the pieces worsen after deregulation?” he asks.

This can be a nice query to ask. (It’s) as a result of the cash system is so damaged — it’s not capitalism. This isn’t what we’re advocating for. You took financial socialism and then you definately took the reins off of it.

“So yeah, all the pieces acquired approach worse and the inequality acquired approach worse. From that lens I believe it’s a lot clearer to see why deregulation truly exacerbated all the pieces.”

And whereas we’re attempting to poke holes within the principle, a bunch of stuff has additionally acquired way better since 1971. Life expectancy within the U.S. is up 10%, toddler survival charges have elevated 71%, the meals provide per individual is up 21%. Globally, issues have improved out of sight: within the early 1970’s half the world’s inhabitants lived in excessive poverty, now solely 10% do. The variety of illiterate folks has dropped by greater than 50%, whereas the variety of folks worldwide who reside in a democracy grew from 32% to virtually 56%

Prentice believes technological progress is the rationale these some issues have improved.

“We will afford extra cool devices to extend our productiveness, even one thing like so simple as the washer,” he says. “We used to spend hours a day washing our garments and hanging them up and drying them. Now I don’t even give it some thought. Expertise improves issues like crops, proper? Have a look at all of the agricultural gear that we use now, these big harvesters and all this stuff that permit us to get our meals cheaper. Basically, I imagine all the stuff you simply listed are resulting from deflationary strain inside an inflationary system.”

So primarily he’s saying that all the issues that acquired higher, would have carried out even higher in the event that they hadn’t been hampered by the tip of the Bretton Woods system.

Economics backgrounds

Prentice says the pair are properly conscious their concepts are outdoors of standard financial considering, however say that’s as a result of they’ve tried to strategy issues from first ideas and “expose the errors that different economists make.”

“We’ve seen their arguments, and we always query ourselves,” he says. “It’s like on the finish of Marty Bent’s podcasts, he’s always saying ‘Are we loopy?’ We ask ourselves that on a regular basis. I don’t have any hubris that I’m a better economist than anyone else. However I do know that I work from logic and first ideas, and I do want to profit all people on the planet.”

Since June they’ve additionally been expounding on their concepts in a newsletter, which is as much as subject 68 already and hits inboxes each couple of days.

“We began the publication to offer these little financial tidbits and clarify little bits of financial historical past as a result of we imagine that Bitcoin is inevitable and it’s the finest cash that has ever existed,” says Prentice.

Collin says it might someday show to be the primary draft of a guide on the subject. 

“If our viewers continues to develop, and we proceed to get a superb reception, we’re increase a library of content material that will someday be edited right into a guide,” he says. “An e-book with a extra cohesive evaluation of financial historical past and the emergence of a brand new paradigm, which is Bitcoin — which is able to change the world as a result of it’s right here and it might probably’t be stopped.”


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