The Continental Dollar: Initial Design, Ideal Performance, and the Credibility of Congressional Commitment
NBER Working Paper No. 17276
An alternative history of the Continental dollar is constructed from original sources and tested against evidence on prices and exchange rates. The Continental dollar was a zero-interest bearer bond, not a pure fiat currency. The public was promised redemption at face value in specie at fixed future dates. When time-discounting (rational bond pricing) is separated from depreciation, little depreciation occurred before 1779. In 1779, and again in 1780, Congress passed ex post facto laws altering Continental-dollar maturity dates. Because these new dates were not fiscally feasible, Congress’ commitment to the Continental dollar lost credibility. Depreciation and collapse followed shortly thereafter.
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This paper was revised on February 27, 2013