Robert Triffin

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Robert Triffin
Born(1911-10-05)5 October 1911
Died23 February 1993(1993-02-23) (aged 81)
NationalityBelgian and American
InstitutionYale University
Alma materHarvard University
Catholic University of Leuven
Edward Chamberlin
Wassily Leontief
John D. Black
Léon H. Dupriez
Edwin F. Gay
Frank Knight
Henry Schultz
Joseph Schumpeter
Paul van Zeeland
Béla Balassa
ContributionsTriffin's dilemma

Robert, Baron Triffin (5 October 1911 – 23 February 1993) was a Belgian-American economist best known for his critique of the Bretton Woods system of fixed currency exchange rates. His critique became known later as Triffin's dilemma.[1]


After completing his undergraduate studies at the Catholic University of Leuven, Triffin, a Francophone Belgian, went to the US and received his PhD from Harvard University in 1938 and taught there from 1939 until 1942. He held positions in the US Federal Reserve System (1942–1946), the International Monetary Fund (1946–1948), and the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (1948–1951), now the OECD. In 1951, he became a professor of economics at Yale University, where he also served as Master of Berkeley College from 1969 until 1977.

Triffin became a US citizen in 1942. He reclaimed his Belgian citizenship in 1977 and returned to reside in Europe. There, he was a staunch supporter of European integration and helped to develop the European Monetary System and supported the concept of a central bank, which developed as the European Central Bank.

Bretton Woods critique[edit]

In 1959, Triffin testified before the United States Congress and warned of serious flaws in the Bretton Woods system.[2] His theory was based on observing the dollar glut, or the accumulation of the United States dollar outside the US. Under the Bretton Woods system, the US had pledged to convert dollars into gold, but by the early 1960s, the glut had caused more dollars to be available outside the US than gold was in its Treasury.

In the post-war era, the US had to run deficits on the current account of the balance of payments[3] to supply the world with dollar reserves that kept liquidity for their increased wealth.

However, running continuing deficits on the current account of the balance of payments resulted in an ever-increasing stock of overseas held dollars, eroding confidence in the belief that the dollar would remain convertible into gold at the Bretton Woods parity rate of $35 per ounce.

Triffin predicted that the system would not be able to maintain both liquidity and confidence, a theory later to be known as the Triffin dilemma. His idea was largely ignored until 1971, when his hypothesis became reality, forcing US President Richard Nixon to halt convertibility of the United States dollar into gold, an initiative known colloquially as the Nixon Shock, which effectively ended the Bretton Woods System.

A fundamental reform of the international monetary system has long been overdue. Its necessity and urgency are further highlighted today by the imminent threat to the once mighty U.S. dollar.

— Robert Triffin[4]


  • Monopolistic Competition and General Equilibrium Theory, 1940.
  • "National central banking and the international economy", 1947, Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System.
  • Europe and the Money Muddle, 1957.
  • Gold and the Dollar Crisis: The future of convertibility, 1960.
  • Statistics of Sources and Uses of Finance, 1948–1958, with Stuvel et al., 1960.
  • "Intégration économique européenne et politique monetaire", 1960, Revue Econ Politique
  • The Evolution of the International Monetary System: historical appraisal and future perspectives, 1964.
  • The World Money Maze: National currencies in international payments, 1966.
  • Our International Monetary System: Yesterday, today and tomorrow, 1968.
  • "The Thrust of History in International Monetary Reform", 1969, Foreign Affairs
  • "The Use of SDR Finance for Collectively Agreed Purposes", BNLQR
  • "The international role and fate of the dollar", 1978, Foreign Affairs
  • "The European Monetary System: Tombstone or cornerstone?", in: The international monetary system: forty years after Bretton Woods. Proceedings of a conference held at Bretton Woods, N.H., May 1984, 1984
  • "The future of the European Monetary System and the ECU", 1984, CEPS Papers
  • " The international accounts of the United States and their impact upon the rest of the world", 1985, BNLQR
  • "Une Banque Monétaire Européenne avec des fonctions de banque centrale", 1986, Répères, Bulletin Économique et Financier
  • "L'avenir du système monétaire et financier international : gestion de crises chroniques ou réformes fondamentales?", 1986, Répères, Bulletin Économique et Financier
  • "The IMS (International Monetary System ... or Scandal?) and the EMS (European Monetary System)", 1987, BNLQR
  • "The European Monetary System in the World Economy", 1989, Rivista di politica economica
  • "L'interdépendance du politique et de l'économique dans le scandale monétaire mondial : diagnostic et prescription", 1989, Répères, Bulletin Économique et Financier
  • "The International Monetary System : 1949–1989", 1990, ECU Newsletter Torino.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nasar, Sylvia (27 February 1993). "Robert Triffin, 81, an Economist Who Backed Monetary Stability". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  2. ^ Triffin, Robert. "By the Way of Introduction (Statement to the Joint Economic Committee of the 87th Congress (Washington, 28 October 1959)); The International Monetary Position and Policy of the United States". Gold and the Dollar Crisis; The Future of Convertibility. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 3–14 – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ Wolf, M. "Do we need a reserve currency?" Accessed 4 January 2010.[failed verification]
  4. ^ "System in Crisis (1959–1971)". Money Matters: An IMF Exhibit – The Importance of Global Cooperation. International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 6 April 2006.

External links[edit]

  • Robert Triffin papers (MS 874). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. [1]