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Bretton Woods, Swap Lines, and the Federal Reserve’s Return to Intervention


This paper describes the United States' first line of defense against shortcomings in the Bretton Woods system, which threatened the system's continuation as early as 1960. The exposition describes the Federal Reserve's use of swap lines both to provide cover for central banks' unwanted dollar exposures, thereby forestalling claims on the U.S. gold stock, and to supply dollar liquidity to countries facing temporary balance-of-payments deficits, thereby bolstering confidence in their parities. As suggested by the expansion and growing use of the swap lines, the operations failed to distinguish between temporary and fundamental disequilibrium forces. In substituting temporary for fundamental adjustments, the lines ultimately proved inadequate.

Keywords: Bretton Woods, intervention, swap lines, monetary policy.
JEL classification: F3, N1, N2.


Suggested citation: Bordo, Michael D., Owen F. Humpage, and Anna J. Schwartz, 2012. "Bretton Woods, Swap Lines, and the Federal Reserve's Return to Intervention," Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper no. 12-32.

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