Courtesy Reuters

The World Economy 1979

The troubles of the dollar, intermittently rising close to the crisis point during the year, once again dominated the international economic system. It became evident by the summer that the November 1978 measures of massive international support for the dollar had not worked as planned. Part of the trouble was that the post-1975 U.S. economic expansion proved to be more robust than had been supposed; moreover, the Federal Reserve's deflationary stance seemed to the rest of the world unconvincing. So in the end the American boom had to be publicly and unmistakably decapitated. This was done on October 6, with all the appropriate gestures, by Mr. Paul Volcker, who had taken over the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve System a few weeks earlier.

By then, the rate of increase of U.S. consumer prices had risen to double figures and the only way to convince the international community that the United States was this time in deadly earnest about reestablishing the capacity of its currency to act as a reliable store of real value was to provide demonstrable evidence that the U.S. economy's apparently irresistible propensity to grow had not only been stopped but had been effectively reversed. The dollar's recovery in foreign exchange markets thus became dependent on the belief that the series of measures taken by the U.S. authorities, culminating in the Volcker package, could be relied upon to push the United States into a recession. To this extent, whatever good domestic economic reasons there may have been for curbing the pace of an already flagging economy-and for doing so in a way which decisively lowered the inflationary expectations of native Americans-the form of the final deflationary squeeze and the degree of its severity were imposed by external forces.

It is true that American self-suspicion not only reflected but also reinforced the international pressures. There was probably enough of this suspicion to counter the possibility of a hostile popular reaction that here was a healthy home-grown piece of

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