The Dollar is Dead -- Long Live the Renminbi
From the UK Telegraph:
Sometimes it takes a crisis to restore reason and equilibrium to the world, and so it is with the trade and capital imbalances that were arguably the root cause of the financial collapse of the past two years.
To economic purists, the changes now under way in demand and trade are inevitable, necessary and even desirable. Even so, dollar supremacy and the geo-political dominance of the West are both likely long-term casualties.
One, almost unnoticed, effect of the downturn is that past imbalances in trade and capital flows are correcting themselves of their own volition, the simple consequence of lower demand in once profligate consumer nations.
Current-account surpluses in China, Germany and Japan are narrowing, as are the deficits of the major consumer nations – primarily America, but also smaller profligates such as Britain and Spain.
The key question for G20 leaders as they meet in Pittsburgh is not bankers' bonuses, financial regulation and other issues of peripheral importance, but whether this correction in trade might be used as the basis for a permanently more balanced world economy.
In direct contradiction of US objectives, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, accuses Britain and America of using the issue of trade imbalances to backtrack on financial reform and bankers' bonuses. "We should not start looking for ersatz [substitute] issues and forget the topic of financial market regulation," she said before boarding the plane to Pittsburgh.
To the big export nations, the primary cause of the crisis was Anglo Saxon financiers, whose wicked and avaricious ways created a catastrophe in the financial system, which led to a collapse in world trade. Once bankers are tamed, this one-off shock can be put behind us and the world will return to business as usual.
Blaming bankers is politically popular – Ms Merkel has an election to fight on Sunday – but the idea that the world economy will return to the way it was once this supposed cancer is removed is fanciful.
A seminal shift in behaviour is being forced on the deficit nations where, despite massive fiscal, monetary and financial system support, there is a continuing scarcity of credit and a growing propensity to save. Neither of these two constraints on demand will reverse any time soon.
This, in turn, is forcing change on surplus countries, whether they like it or not. Export-orientated nations can no longer rely on once profligate neighbours to buy their goods. Against all instinct, they are having to stimulate their own domestic demand.
The most startling results are evident in China, where retail sales grew an astonishing 15.4 per cent in August. Fiscal action has succeeded in boosting consumption in Germany, too, despite mistrust of what one German politician has dubbed "crass Keynesianism".
Unfortunately for him, Germany will have to persist with its Keynesian medicine for some time yet if it is to avoid a collapse back into recession. Tax cuts and perhaps the removal of fiscal incentives to save are essential to the process of supporting domestic demand.
The challenge for a developing nation such as China is a rather different one. In China, the propensity to export and save is driven by an absence of any meaningful social security net, in combination with the legacy of its oppressive one child policy, which has deprived great swathes of the population of children to fall back on for support in old age.
What's more, most Chinese don't earn enough to buy the products they are producing, so in what has become the customary path for developing nations, they export the surplus and save the proceeds.
Yet even in China the establishment of a newly affluent, free-spending middle class may now have gained an unstoppable momentum. In any case, the country can no longer rely on American consumers to provide jobs and growth. It needs a new growth model, which means ultimately adopting the
Henry Ford principle that if you want a sustainable market for your products, you have to pay your workers enough to buy them.
These trends – all of which pre-date the crisis but which, out of necessity, are being greatly accelerated by it – will eventually drive a move away from the dollar as the world's reserve currency of choice. As China takes control of its economic destiny, spends more and saves less, there will be less willingness both to hold dollar assets and to submit to the domestic priorities of US monetary policy.
None of this will happen overnight. Depressed it might be, but US consumption is still substantially bigger than that of all the surplus nations put together. All the same, that the dollar's reign as the world's dominant currency is drawing to a close is no longer in doubt.