Over history, all currencies backed by a pure fiat monetary system come to an end in one way or another. Whether it was recently with the Euro replacing various European currencies like the Portuguese Real in 1999, or during ancient times with the fall of the Denarius, the currency of the Roman Empire, in 274.
The transition from a sound to an unsustainable monetary system is particularly common when currencies gain reserve status, which, in itself, is the cause of their demise. It forces leaders to finance an expansive empire resulting in the gradual debasement, devaluation, and destruction of their currency. Two textbook examples are the British Empire and the Roman Empire whose currencies collapsed by trying to fund imperialism. The debt they owed from trying to outgrow their productive capacity became such a burden it wasn’t just their currencies that fell, but also themselves.
Still, today, if you ask most people about the U.S dollar, they have yet to question its stability. Despite the Greenback being on a gold standard for the majority of the last two hundred years, recently, the currency has been supported by a fiat system and the rest of the world has gone along with it. Millennials and Boomers have yet to experience what it’s like to operate within a financial system that promotes discipline while prohibiting massive leveraging of debt. When the majority realize their currency is backed only by debt the government will never be able to pay back — $23 trillion to be exact — the U.S dollar will face a reality check.
Of course, for the U.S dollar to lose its hegemonic status, there has to be a good enough reason for the world to want to replace it. But, recently, there’s been an increased awareness around the world that the Greenback’s global reserve currency status is under threat.
Mainstream financial media who normally don’t have the opportunity to delve deeper into technical aspects of the monetary system are beginning to publish articles on the death of the U.S dollar. The topic has also become a popular topic on various financial podcasts such as Macrovoices which features the infamous dollar bear, Luke Gromen, who’s predicting — like many others — that the existing gold standard will supersede the current debt-backed system.
Meanwhile, even prominent central bankers are considering alternatives: At the annual Jackson Hole meeting, Mark Carney, the Bank of England Governor, hinted at the idea of a crypto-backed system playing the role as the new global reserve currency: “It is an open question whether such a new Synthetic Hegemonic Currency (SHC) would be best provided by the public sector, perhaps through a network of central bank digital currencies.”
Over the past decade, we’ve started to see real evidence of the U.S dollar becoming unfavorable. Various global powers are making a consolidated effort to decouple from the U.S dollar’s hegemonic status by stocking up on commodities that have been used as a store of value in previous monetary regimes. Having been employed in recent monetary systems preceding global fiat it’s no surprise that gold is in hot demand, especially from two of the U.S’s biggest rivals, China and Russia. From the beginning of the 21st century, Russia has increased its gold reserves by 680% — 340 to 2241 metric tonnes — and China has increased its gold reserves by 393% — 395 to 1948 tonnes.
Yet it’s not just gold, its oil too. Following the introduction of sanctions implemented by President Trump, the Iranians have been searching for an alternative medium of exchange while their currency — the Rial — continues to depreciate against the Greenback. During an address to the United Nations, Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “The actual mechanism would be to avoid dollars,” to achieve bilateral trade with countries in other currencies.
It’s evident that the world is waking up to the negatives of the Greenback’s reserve currency status, but what would be a suitable replacement? Now, the countless new, exotic forms of money produce a dilemma for anyone trying to predict the U.S dollar’s successor. History tells us its a gold standard; not out of choice but out of necessity to restore stability during a monetary regime change. Yet, this time, there are new contenders: cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that bring power back to the people and other currencies that preserve institutional power like the IMF’s infamous SDRs.
With the world applying an ever-increasing amount of pressure onto the Greenback in capacity and complexity, it’s not a matter of if, but when the U.S dollar will be forced to make way for a new reserve currency. The challenge, however, is predicting what it will be.