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Does the Dollar Have a Future?

By       Message Mike Whitney       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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"If the dollar does indeed lose its role as leading international currency, the cost to the United States would probably extend beyond the simple loss of seigniorage, narrowly defined. We would lose the privilege of playing banker to the world, accepting short-term deposits at low interest rates in return for long-term investments at high average rates of return. When combined with other political developments, it might even spell the end of economic and political hegemony."
-- Economist Menzie Chinn, "Will the Dollar Remain the World's Reserve Currency in Five Years?", CounterPunch 2009

Barack Obama's economic recovery has been a complete bust. Unemployment is high, the economy is barely growing, and inequality is greater than anytime on record. On top of that, inflation has dropped to 1.2 percent, private sector hiring continues to disappoint and, according to Gallup's "Economic Confidence" survey, households and consumers remain "deeply negative." More tellingly, the Federal Reserve's emergency program dubbed QE -- which was designed to mitigate the fallout from the 2008 stock market crash and subsequent recession -- is still operating at full-throttle five years after Lehman Brothers defaulted. This is inexcusable. It's an admission that US policymakers have no idea what they're doing.

Why is it so hard to get the economy up and running? Everyone knows that spending generates growth, so if the private sector (consumers and businesses) can't spend, the public sector (the government) must spend. That's how sluggish economies shake off recession -- through growth.

Spend, spend, spend and spend some more. That's how you grow your way out of a slump. There's nothing new or original about this. This isn't some cutting-edge, state-of-the-art theory. It's settled science. Economics 101.

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So is it any wonder why the rest of the world is losing confidence in the US? Is it any wonder why China and Japan have slashed their purchases of US debt? Get a load of this from Reuters:

"China and Japan led an exodus from U.S. Treasuries in June after the first signals the U.S. central bank was preparing to wind back its stimulus, with data showing they accounted for almost all of a record $40.8 billion of net foreign selling of Treasuries.

"China, the largest foreign creditor, reduced its Treasury holdings to $1.2758 trillion, and Japan trimmed its holdings for a third straight month to $1,0834 trillion. Combined, they accounted for about $40 billion in net Treasury outflows." ("China, Japan lead record outflow from Treasuries in June," Reuters)

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While things have improved since August, the selloff is both ominous and revealing. Foreign trading partners are losing confidence in US stewardship because of policymakers' erratic behavior. Here's how former Fed chairman Paul Volcker summed it up:

"We have lost a coherent successful governing model to be emulated by the rest of the world. Instead, we're faced with broken financial markets, under-performance of our economy and a fractious political climate."

Naturally, this loss of confidence is going to hurt the dollar vis-a-vis its position as the world's reserve currency. But don't kid yourself, China and Japan don't want to be the top-dog either. They're fine with the way things are right now. The problem is, it's looking more and more like the US is not up-to-the-task anymore, given the irresponsible way it conducts its business. 

And we're not talking about the government shutdown either, although that circus sideshow certainly lifted a few eyebrows in capitals around the world. Foreign leaders have come to expect these tedious outbursts from the lunatic fringe in Congress. But, the fact is, the government shutdown fiasco had very little effect on the bond market. The benchmark 10-year US Treasury shrugged off congress' screwball antics with a wave of the hand. No big deal. 

Not so the talk of "tapering" by the Fed, which sent 10-year yields soaring more than 100 basis points to 3 percent in less that a month. Tapering put the fear of god in everyone. The sudden jolt to mortgage rates was enough to put the kibosh on new and existing homes sales putting a swift end to Bernanke's dream of reflating the housing bubble. The rising long-term rates threatened to push the economy back into recession and wipe out five years of zero rates and pump priming in the blink of an eye. That's why China and Co. started to jettison USTs. They figured if the Fed was going to scale back its asset purchases, rates would rise, and they'd be left with a whole shedload of US paper that would be worth less than what they paid for it. So they got out while the gettin' was good.

So don't believe the media's fairytale that Bernanke postponed tapering because the economy still looked weak. That's nonsense. It was the selloff in USTs that slammed on the brakes. The Fed actually wants to reduce its purchases because there are humongous bubbles emerging in financial assets everywhere. But how to do it without triggering another crash, that's the question. The Fed has distorted prices across the board, which is why the main stock indices are climbing to new highs every day on the back of an economy that has less people in the workforce than it did 10 years ago. What a joke. And people wonder why foreign lenders are getting nervous?

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What China wants from the United States is simple. They want proof that the US hasn't lost its mind. That's all. "Just show us that you still know how to fix the economy and run the system." Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately, Washington doesn't think it needs to answer to anyone. We're Numero Uno, le grand fromage. "What we say goes!"

Okay. But the only thing that's going is the US' reputation, its economic dominance, its behemoth debt market, and its reserve currency status. Not because the world is rebelling, but because the US is imploding. "Stupid" is a disease that has spread to every part of the body politic. The country is run by crackpots who implement counter-productive policies that weaken demand, boost unemployment, shrink growth, and leave the rest of the world scratching their heads in bewilderment. This is from Bloomberg:

"While government debt was a haven as the U.S. endured the worst recession in seven decades, primary dealers such as Barclays Plc (BARC) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. say the gains this month show the Fed's $85 billion of monthly bond purchases are masking the risk of owning fixed-income securities as the recovery in America takes hold.

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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