Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The New World Order in Stable Global Currency

Across the Curve recently pointed out some interesting developments in China's response to the financial crisis and their bloated dollar reserves. It should be a forgone conclusion Manhattan R/E prices will fall. No news there. But China now allows settlement in Yuan. Now that’s interesting.

However, this argument for the value of stable exchange rates was the basis for Bretton Woods, which didn’t turn out so well.
The architects of Bretton Woods had conceived of a system wherein exchange rate stability was a prime goal. Yet, in an era of more activist economic policy, governments did not seriously consider permanently fixed rates on the model of the classical gold standard of the nineteenth century. (source: Wikipedia)
Go ahead, blame the collapse on the U.S., but the core fact is fixed exchange rates are really price controls on foreign exchange, with some enforcement mechanism to dictate what sovereign nations can and can’t do with fiscal and monetary policy. Notice a key phrase above, which is as true today as ever in the U.S. and every other nation: "…an era of more activist economic policy…” (read that as “managed economy”).

History is clear, price controls inevitably lead to misallocation of scares resources and poor financial decisions, then to gray and black-markets, which in the case of forex and national policy translates into cheaters who’s self-interests trump the desires of their partners. In the case of Bretton Woods, the strain of national interests working against the rules of fixed exchange finally blew up in ’72. But notice one of the preceding problems (emphasis added):
…The United States was running huge balance of trade surpluses, and the U.S. reserves were immense and growing… (source: Wikipedia).
So how would a new forced stable exchange rate (i.e. if China somehow convinced the world their managed currency exchange rate to ensure vibrant exports was a better reserve system than floating U.S. dollar exchange rates) fare better in the 21st century than it did in the 20th, especially in light of the balance of trade surplus problem in the 20th century and China’s balance of trade surplus today?

Don’t get us wrong, we're not bashing China for their response to present problems. It's natural, normal, and expected for every nation to try and keep it's citizens productive, useful, and well fed. But swapping one fiat currency for another new one doesn’t seem like it will do our children any good.

Side Note: Turns out you can celebrate Bretton Woods 65th Anniversary this month, in case you don’t already have vacation plans. We hear New England is pretty in the summer, but the guest speakers look like the type to extol the virtues of Bretton Woods without much serious criticism of its failures or alternatives. Too bad Ron Paul, Mark Skousen, or just about anyone from the University of Chicago won’t be there to speak as an alternative voice.

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