THREE DAYS AT CAMP DAVID:
How a Secret Meeting in 1971 Transformed the Global Economy
Over three days at a top secret meeting at Camp David—from August 13 to 15, 1971—President Richard Nixon and his brain trust sat down to decide the fate of the dollar. What they did changed the course of history.
Since 1944, all national currencies had been valued against the U.S. dollar, which itself was convertible to gold at a fixed rate. It was a system that fueled the phenomenal recovery of Western Europe and much of East Asia from the ashes of war, together with an unprecedented expansion of middle-class prosperity in America. Yet the U.S. gold supply was dwindling dramatically, and the group at Camp David felt compelled to sever the link between the dollar and the precious metal, sending the global economy into a tailspin and creating shock waves throughout America’s most important alliances. In so doing, Nixon and his team were signaling that the United States was no longer rich and powerful enough to hold up the free world economically and militarily, and that it needed help from its democratic partners.
Then, as now, the pressures of globalization were bearing down on America, and nationalism and protectionism were on the rise. Then, as now, Washington was seeking a fairer trading system and imploring its allies to spend more on their own military defense. Then, as now, America was asking whether the cost of global leadership was too high, and its citizens were simultaneously demanding much more attention to problems at home, including unemployment, health care, and civil rights.
In abandoning the gold-dollar connection, the Nixon administration opened the way for a highly volatile and crisis-prone world economy. But at the same time, it ushered in an era of enormous expansion of trade and investment across borders, leading to four decades of continued global economic growth. In addition, after the Camp David meeting, Nixon successfully leveraged the crisis, which he himself had created, to strengthen political alliances and international economic cooperation.
Three Days at Camp David takes us into the room where the decision was made to untie the dollar from gold, bringing to life the backgrounds and mind-sets of the men around the table. Based on extensive research and interviews with many participants at the Camp David meeting, and informed by his own insights from his hands-on experience in Washington and on Wall Street, plus his teaching at Yale, Garten has written the definitive record of a critical historical turning point, with significant implications for America in the years ahead.
Advance Praise for Three Days at Camp David
“Three Days at Camp David is a fascinating character-driven story. It provides critical historical perspective on America’s role in the world, including the constant tension between nationalism and global engagement. And it sheds light on President Biden’s challenge to restore America’s alliances, just as Nixon and Kissinger did in Garten’s account of the early 1970s.”
—WALTER ISAACSON, author of Kissinger: A Biography, Steve Jobs, and Leonardo da Vinci
“Jeffrey Garten’s Three Days at Camp David is a riveting account of one of the most consequential—if often overlooked—moments in financial history. Garten gives us Richard Nixon before the disastrous fall, making the pathos of the events all the more poignant. It’s required reading for anyone eager to understand the world’s current economic challenges.”
—WILLIAM D. COHAN, author of The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co. and House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street
“Garten tells a tale of gold and guarantees, secrecy and surprise, and conflict and cooperation. His fast-paced history brings the characters alive, explains complexity with clarity, and reveals America’s competing impulses of leadership and retrenchment—a tension alive today.”
—ROBERT B. ZOELLICK, former president of the World Bank, former U.S. trade representative, and author of America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy
“As a senior economic staff member working for National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger at the time, I was involved in many of the pivotal events in this book. Jeffrey Garten has told the story of how the U.S. severed the link between the dollar and gold in all its economic and foreign policy dimensions, and in all its human drama. Not only has he made a contribution to understanding this critical series of events in American history, but he has also pointed to the profound implications for America and the global economy in the years ahead.”
—Robert D. Hormats, former senior White House and State Department official in five presidential administrations, and former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International)
“A fascinating play-by-play account of one of the most important events in the history of the modern world economy, with powerful implications for current policy.”
—C. Fred Bergsten, founding director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and former assistant secretary of the Treasury
“A gripping tale of a critical period in global finance with striking relevance to our present moment, when the global system is in transition and so many pressures exist for America to look only inward.”
—Merit E. Janow, dean of the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
“Jeffrey Garten makes a strong case that the end of the dollar’s convertibility into gold has had deep, long-run implications for the United States and the global economy. He provides valuable food for thought for our own uncertain era.”
—Robert E. Rubin, former secretary of the Treasury
“If you ever wanted a ringside seat to see how a world-changing decision is made in Washington, read Three Days at Camp David. It reads like a novel, yet it is a work of history, politics, and economic policy.”
—Susan C. Schwab, professor emerita, University of Maryland, and former U.S. trade representative