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

If you’ve ventured on to Crypto Twitter this year, you may have seen a tweet from the meme account WTF Happened in 1971?

Created in March, the account posts numerous times a week to its fast growing fanbase of 10,500 followers. A typical post features a graph that shows how inequality has grown in recent years, inflation has skyrocketed and how ordinary people are being priced out of houses and stocks due to low wage growth. Somewhere on the chart there will be a little arrow pointing at 1971, which highlights when the rot set in.

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

Its followers notice similar phenomena and contribute to the meme by tagging them in. This week someone reposted a New York Post article showing a decline in the happiness of lower socio-economic status white adults since the early 1970s, asking: “Gee I wonder #wtfhappenedin1971???’



So what did happen in 1971?

The WTF Happened in 1971 website suggests that all of these disparate effects are connected to President Richard Nixon calling time on the Bretton Woods financial system which tied the value of the world’s reserve currency — the U.S. dollar — to gold.

The ‘gold standard’ as it is known, underpinned global finance from 1944, when the World War II Allied Nations, including the U.S., Canada, Western European nations, Australia and Japan, negotiated the rules of the international monetary system with fixed exchange rates between currencies. This took place at a hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. At the time the U.S. controlled two thirds of the world’s gold and insisted the system was based on gold and the US dollar.

The system meant that in theory you could redeem $35 USD for one ounce of gold  – although in actual fact it was illegal for US citizens to hold ...

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