Insights & Advice

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Sour Grapes

As the G20 conference gets underway today in Korea, I expect the currency war will escalate now that the U.S. Federal Reserve has launched the second round of quantitative easing. As the dollar continues to decline, our trading partners are getting back a little of their own and they don’t like it.

Over the last week or so the Fed’s QE II announcement has been greeted by a chorus of howls from all over the world. Germany’s finance minister called U.S. policies “clueless” while Chinese officials quickly added their own criticism.

“As long as the world exercises no restraint in issuing global currencies such as the dollar, then the occurrence of another crisis is inevitable,” stated Xia Bin, an advisor to China’s central bank.
Brazil’s finance minster, Guido Mantega, went further when he said “Everybody wants the U.S. economy to recover, but it does no good at all to just throw dollars from a helicopter.”

Those are just a few choice criticisms but there were many more from nations throughout the world accusing the U.S. of everything from currency manipulation to exporting inflation. They may be right but that doesn’t mean we are wrong.

For decades the U.S. has been running a major trade deficit with our international trading partners. All these countries that are squawking about QE II have been major beneficiaries of a monumental trading imbalance with the U.S. both now and in the past. In Latin America, for example, Brazil, among others, has benefited mightily by keeping its own currency artificially low and exporting huge quantities to the U.S. China is another master of currency manipulation and has followed a weak currency/high export policy for years. Germany is also enjoying booming exports, trade surpluses, low debt and an unemployment is expected to fall to 1990s levels thanks to a weak Euro.

So after carrying the weight of the rest of the world’s exports for years, the U.S. is fighting back and well it should. It is our nation and not any of the above countries, which is suffering a high unemployment rate, a slow growth recovery, huge trade deficits and a record debt load. We are simply following the same prescription both Japan and Europe followed after WWII, which Latin America followed after their Lost Decade of the 1980s. China’s economic miracle is founded and continues to grow along these same economic principles.

Now that America has decided to play the same game, cries of “foul” echo across the world. It is true that America’s actions will cause problems for economies around the world. Right now it makes a lot of economic sense for foreigners to borrow in dollars where interest rates are at rock bottom and then invest that money in building plants and equipment back home where interest rates and local currencies are higher. Of course, their governments already hold huge dollar reserves in the form of U.S. Treasury bonds. Foreign central banks fear that all this additional dollar borrowing may cause inflation in their own countries.

You might ask how critics can take the moral high ground and point a finger when for years they have been doing the same thing to us and acting as if America was their own private export market. Nations, however, are not individuals; which brings to mind a quote of Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers:
“Money, not morality, is the principle commerce of civilized nations.”

Posted in A Few Dollars More, Macroeconomics