What Countries use US Dollar and Why?

Other than the United States, 5 U.S. territories and 12 sovereign nations use the US dollar as their legal currency. (Note that Micronesia covers six sovereign countries).

Additionally, I have traveled to island nations and some countries in Asia and Pacific that peg their currency to the US dollar. In these regions, citizens accept US dollars interchangeably with their own national currency, and their governments don’t seem to discourage or prosecute such transactions.

What gives value to paper?

Around 350 BC, Aristotle worked for the Greek council, trying to get farmers, weavers, chariot makers and tradesman to use government issued currency for the exchange of goods and services, rather than bartering with neighbors. This would not only facilitate taxation and public works, but it would help farmers to store and forward their wealth, instead of seeing their assets perish with each change of season.

He reflected on what makes a currency trusted and functional. He felt that one critical trait was “intrinsic value”. Today, most economists interpret this phrase as a currency having inherent or self-contained value. That is, it mustn’t be paper nor even a promise of redemption (for example, a picture of Caesar). And it mustn’t rely on the ‘good faith and credit’ of citizens. After all, nations are subject to the whims of transient politicians and any economy can collapse because of war, drought or over-spending. Rather, the money must be made from something of useful and dense value. For example, it could be gold, silver or some useful thing, like chocolate, coveted jewelry or a tool.

Today, money is no longer backed by gold or even a government promise of redemption (offering to exchange dollars for gold, grain, goats or land). For developed nations, this backing—a method of establishing intrinsic value—ended between 1971~1973, when President Richard Nixon dissolved the Bretton Woods Agreement and withdrew the promise of a conversion guaranty.

Instead, today, the value of national currencies floats in response to supply and demand.

Supply and demand is a natural economic mechanism, and for fluid and widely distributed commodities, it can be an elegant solution to the problem of establishing value, function and durability—but only if the supply is capped or very tightly regulated and the issuer is trusted by individuals, organizations and nations that quote prices, save or trade with the currency.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for any national currency across the world.

  • Supply: National currencies increase in supply when the government spends more than it raises from fees, taxes, government owned industries and borrowing—or whenever it cannot meet debt obligations. With fiat currency, the supply is open ended and uncertain.
  • Demand: The demand for a currency is a function of its issuer’s economy: How much are its people producing? How high are their debts? Do creditors believe that they will repay their debts in kind?—at least, someday, down the road.

Today, it’s all about trust—Trust in the ability of a country to return the goods and services that were bought by their people and trust in their government to avoid printing more money, which depreciates savings, redistributes wealth, and cheats creditors through the insipid dilution of inflation.

Whenever a government prints money, it reneges on debt and breeches the trust of creditors.

Why would any country substitute the currency of another country?

One need only look at this Zimbabwe money to understand why an independent nation might substitute the US dollar as legal tender. The same has happened to Argentina, Greece, Venezuela and Germany between the wars.

It was withdrawn from circulation in 2008. At the time, it was worth US 40¢ (40 cents). Today, Zimbabwe uses the US dollar as its legal currency, because its spending value is stable relative to monies issued African central banks. That is, the citizens trust the US dollar to resist inflation—and so they use it to store and trade their hard-earned wealth.

Is Adoption of the US Dollar growing around the world?

The days of our friends and enemies trusting the dollar—or even using it to negotiate large international trades (that is, as a “reserve currency”)—is gradually coming to an end. This is changing, because:

1. Bitcoin is gradually displacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Even though it is slow to gain traction as a commercial and consumer payment instrument, it has all the components of an ideal currency for large international quotation, exchange and settlement.

The fundamental reason for the gradual trust in Bitcoin is illustrated by these graphs. Bitcoin is a capped commodity backed by a robust 2-sided network. Understanding and trust in its distributed consensus mechanism is growing. It cannot be manipulated by transient politicians. Nations that use it for significant transactions cannot be cheated when their trading partner or a 3rd party prints money to cover their own shortfall. It is an ideal reserve settlement instrument.

2. In recent decades, the dollar is built on debt rather than domestic output, a trade surplus, or high quality credit. This creates the potential for a collapse, if US citizens or creditor nations begin to doubt the likelihood of the United States reversing its slumping exports and staggering trade imbalance.

3. In recent years, the United States has lost gravitas in world forums due to the projection of power beyond its borders without a clear mandate or international support, and its recent lack of leadership in issues like the environment, trade accords and arbitrating regional peace agreements. This impression—along with the erratic statements and behavior of U.S. politicians causes both allies and enemies to seek an alternate reserve currency. Why so? …

A reserve currency is an international quotation and settlement instrument—even when the United States is not a party to a sale or transaction, and even if one or both parties is not a US ally. Many countries, banks and producers (of oil, food, military gear, etc) do not desire or appreciate the tremendous side-benefit that accrues to USA.

In effect, when you adopt the currency of one nation as the reserve currency for others, you grant credit to that country, without collateral. You allow them to print money without substantive backing, guarantees or even a balance of trade that makes it likely you will be repaid without the dilution of inflation.

Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He sits on the New Money Systems board of Lifeboat Foundation. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Spell it Out: What, exactly, backs Bitcoin?

On August 1 2017, the value of a Bitcoin was at $2,750 US dollars. Today, just over one month later, it is poised to leap past $5,000 per unit. With this gain, many people are asking if Bitcoin has any genuine, inherent value. Is it a pyramid scheme? —Or is it simply a house of cards ready to collapse when the wind picks up?

In a past article, I explained that Bitcoin fundamentals ought to place its value in the vicinity of $10,000.* (At the time, it was less than $450, and had even fallen to $220 in the following year).

For many consumers viewing the rising interest in Bitcoin from the stands, there is great mystery surrounding the underlying value. What, if anything, stands behind it? This is a question with a clear and concise answer. In fact, it has a very definitive and believable answer—but it is easiest to understand with just a little bit of historical perspective.

At one time, G7 fiat currencies were backed by a reserve of physical Gold or the pooling or cross-ownership of other currencies that are backed by gold. That ended in 1971 when the Bretton Woods agreement was dissolved by president Richard Nixon in Ithaca NY.

Today, US currency is backed by “The good faith and credit of the American worker” (This is the government explanation of intrinsic value). But in truth its future value is loosely tied to one simple question: Does the typical vendor or consumer (for example, someone accepting a $20 bill in exchange for a movie ticket or 2 large pizzas) expect it to buy these same things in the next few months?

A considerable number of speculative components contribute to the answer. For example:

  • Debt: This is the elephant in the room. A house built on debt cannot thrive forever—without a fresh stream of exports and productivity. These are the measures of a nation’s income and its balance sheet. Here, then is the key question: Is new money being printed without a commensurate added value to GDP? After all, this is how a nation repays its debts.
  • Public Trust: Good faith goes beyond debt. Can consumers and creditors be certain that a change of government won’t cause rampant inflation or a willful failure to retire future debt? Can they be assured that their fellow workers will continue to produce and export manufactured goods in ever increasing quantity?
  • Guns & Tanks: Citizens are compelled by law to pay their taxes in official state currency. Even for those who attempt to fly under the wire or use alternate currencies during the tax year, this ultimately forces fiat currency to be recognized and honored.
  • Geopolitical Stability: The US has been a debtor nation for decades and it has significant political and economic disputes with its largest creditors (China and nations of oil-rich gulf states). What would be the effect of these trade partners (a) moving away from the dollar as their reserve currency, or (b) investing the trillions of dollars they have earned in some other country—or within their own borders?

This list is not exhaustive, but each constituent boils down to two fundamental concepts: Supply-and-demand –and– How long will demand last?

The dollar is an invention of a transient government. Even with a long history of stability and a complex banking framework, it is no more real than Bitcoin. Supply and demand for any commodity is based on popular recognition, anti-counterfeit features, innate desire and public goodwill. The real question is: What contributes to the desire to own or spend Bitcoin?

The answer is that Bitcoin is backed by something far more reliable and trustworthy than the transient whim of elected legislators. It is backed by something that carries more weight than the US government. What could possibly guaranty the value of a Bitcoin? After all, it does not convey ownership in gold, and it has no redemption guarantee. There is no picture of Caesar on the coin. (In fact, there is no coin at all!)…

Answer: Bitcoin is backed by math, a firm cap, a completely transparent set of books, and the critical mass of a two-sided network. Although it can be taxed (like any asset), it can be owned and transferred with impunity and without recourse. These may not seem like critical components of intrinsic value, but they are. In fact, they define intrinsic value in the modern era.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, produces The Bitcoin Event, edits A Wild Duck
and is keynote at this year’s Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.