When I was last in the Elysée Palace, with a troop of bankers, we were given a speech of welcome from Jacques Chirac and the opportunity to taste French regional wines. This occasion, or so I imagine, will be more elaborate. A gold ingot will be escorted from the Banque de France by mounted outriders and arranged on a velvet cushion in front of the President. Heads will bow. This, he will proclaim, is the veritable brick pulled out of the wall forty years ago by my sainted predecessor, Charles de Gaulle — the brick that brought the house down. Let us honour his memory and learn from his example. There will be a suitable patter of sycophantic applause and a sideways sidle towards the Veuve Clicquot. (Note the golden label.) I just hope that my invitation has not miscarried, because time is running short and, then as now, the general had a point. At a press conference convened for the purpose in the cold February of 1965, he declared war on the dollar. Its supremacy gave the Americans what he called an exorbitant privilege: they could pay their bills by printing more, when their own wars — in Vietnam, at the time — required some expensive financing. The world’s money needed a surer foundation than this: ‘Truly, it is hard to imagine that it could be any standard other than gold — yes, gold, whose nature does not alter, which may be formed equally well into ingots, bars or coins, which has no nationality, and which has eternally and universally been regarded as the unalterable currency par excellence.’
Slamming the window
With that, the general went into action. He took France’s dollars to the window of the United States Treasury and asked to trade them for some of the gold in Fort Knox, at $35 an ounce — the price that Franklin Roosevelt had set years ago by throwing dice.