The United States is spared this indignity; it can create more dollars. In addition, foreigners' investment of their dollars holds down U.S. interest rates.
But there was always a price. Foreigners didn't spend all their dollars on imports.
Their demand for dollars kept the dollar's exchange rate up, making U.S. exports more expensive and imports here cheaper. Since 1980, the U.S. has run trade deficits in every year totaling about $9 trillion.
All this produced grumbling from U.S. manufacturers and unions, but was tolerated while most countries, including the United States, enjoyed relatively low unemployment.
And it's not just joblessness. Many Americans believe that foreigners have manipulated their currencies to enshrine their export advantage.
In a recent lecture, economist Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute, relying on the work of his colleague Joe Gagnon, argued that at least 20 countries have regularly intervened in foreign exchange markets by buying dollars and euros "to keep those currencies overly strong and their own currencies weak, to boost their international competitiveness and trade surpluses."
The resulting buildup of foreign exchange reserves is immense.
At year-end 2012, China had $3.4 trillion of reserves; Japan, $1.2 trillion; Singapore, $519 billion; and Russia, $476 billion.
One result is lopsided and weak global growth. Countries dependent on exports (China) need stronger domestic demand; countries dependent on domestic demand (the United States, some eurozone nations) need stronger exports.
Bergsten contends that the world trading system has already succumbed to "currency wars" as countries vie for competitive advantage. He proposes that the United States retaliate against "manipulators."
His suggestions, if adopted, would sow wider economic conflict. Some foreign governments view the Federal Reserve's easy money policies as retaliation, designed to depress the dollar's value, though the Fed denies this.
The global dollar poses other hazards.
Eichengreen writes that either a political dispute between the United States and China or a "sudden shift in market sentiment" could trigger a panicky flight from the dollar.
The odds of that are impossible to calculate.
But this much is clear: Long a boon to the world economy, the dollar standard now looms as a potential source of instability.