02 October, 2010

A race to the bottom

I don't always trust Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (he has a tendency to see doom, and something of a conspiratorial mindset), but I fear he's on to something here:

States accounting for two-thirds of the global economy are either holding down their exchange rates by direct intervention or steering currencies lower in an attempt to shift problems on to somebody else, each with their own plausible justification. Nothing like this has been seen since the 1930s.

In particular, nations are threatening to get into the mindset of zero-sum economics ("beggar-thy-neighbor" was the old expression), which just means the whole system can collapse so much more quickly.
The US and Britain are debasing coinage to alleviate the pain of debt-busts, and to revive their export industries: China is debasing to off-load its manufacturing overcapacity on to the rest of the world, though it has a trade surplus with the US of $20bn (£12.6bn) a month.

Premier Wen Jiabao confesses that China’s ability to maintain social order depends on a suppressed currency. A 20pc revaluation would be unbearable. “I can’t imagine how many Chinese factories will go bankrupt, how many Chinese workers will lose their jobs,” he said.

Plead he might, but tempers in Washington are rising. Congress will vote next week on the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, intended to make it much harder for the Commerce Department to avoid imposing “remedial tariffs” on Chinese goods deemed to be receiving “benefit” from an unduly weak currency.

And who decides on what constitutes unfairness, or what is remedial?  No Smoot-Hawley bill yet, but the trend concerns me.

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