Skip to comments.The Silent Victims of the U.S.-China Currency War
Posted on 02/14/2012 11:04:06 AM PST by Razzz42
Xi Jinping, likely to be China's next president, visits President Obama in the White House this week. This visit ensures that the ongoing currency war between the United States and China will be on the list of things that Obama and Xi discuss along with the looming war with Iran, the North Korean succession, and other geopolitical issues.
Currency wars arise when a country steals growth from trading partners by cheapening its currency to promote exports. The new currency war began in 2010 when President Obama declared in his State of the Union address that it was the policy of the United States to double exports in five years. Since the United States would not become twice as productive in five years, the implication was that the United States would severely cheapen its currency to achieve this goal.
The Federal Reserve set about trying to cheapen the dollar through policies such as quantitative easingthe printing of moneyand zero interest rates. The idea was to make the U.S. dollar unattractive to foreign investors and import inflation from abroad through higher import prices. The prospect of inflation would encourage Americans to borrow and spend, and ultimately get the U.S. economy growing. Inflation was being encouraged for the first time in 40 years because it was the key to reducing the real value of America's debt.
[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress Interfere with China's Currency Policies?]
This U.S. policy of devaluation and inflation would hurt not only foreign investors but also U.S. savers who held bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement plans, annuities, and other fixed-income investments. All savers and investors, both American and foreign, would be deprived of the value of their savings through U.S. dollar devaluation in order to benefit banks, hedge funds, speculators, and other leveraged investors.
Yet the currency war with China is really a red herring. China may generate an enormous dollar volume of exports to the United States but it is far from the greatest source of value added. Indeed, it is the policy of the United States to devalue against all trading partners, not just China.
The reason for this has to do with the complex nature of supply chains in a globalized world. The United States imports the popular iPhone from China and the full cost of the iPhone contributes to the U.S. trade deficit with China. However, important components of the iPhone are sourced from all over the world. The iPhone flash memory and touch screens come from Japan. Camera modules and GPS receivers come from Germany. Powerful processors come from South Korea. In all, China adds only 3.6 percent to the overall value of the iPhone. By contrast, Japan adds 34 percent, Germany adds 17 percent, and South Korea adds 13 percent respectively. A U.S. devaluation against the Chinese yuan of 50 percent alone will only affect the price of an imported iPhone by 1.8 percent, a trivial amount. In order to import inflation from abroad, the United States must devalue against the euro, the Japanese yen, the South Korean won, and the currencies of all trading partners in the global supply chain.
[Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy. ]
Because of this, the importance of countries such as South Korea and Taiwan as trading partners to the United States goes well beyond their bilateral trade relationships. For example, South Korean value added is embedded in the U.S. trading relationships with China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries engaged in assembly of components. A country such as South Korea is even more of a target for U.S. efforts at devaluation than China itself. If the United States is successful in devaluing the dollar against the South Korean won, the result for South Korea will be lost exports, lost tourism, and lower earnings for South Korean based global corporations that earn profits abroad.
Countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil are often the biggest losers in a currency war because their exports suffer from devaluation of major currencies such as the dollar but they lack the status of a reserve currency and the ability to defend their valuations by redirecting capital flows in their favor. These countries are the silent victims of currency wars. They are important enough to suffer revaluation but not powerful enough to change the outcome. In the end, these countries may have to resort to capital controls similar to those imposed recently by Switzerland to prevent a super-strong local currency from further damaging their economies.
This scenarioone country trying to devalue its currency and inviting retaliation from other countriesis at the heart of all currency wars. The result can either be a deflationary contraction of world trade as seen in the 1930s or an inflationary destruction of wealth as seen in the 1970s. An even worse outcomehyperinflation followed by a crash and deflationcannot be ruled out.
Citizens everywhere should realize that competitive devaluations are not a path to prosperitythey are a path to ruin. The currency wars have not run their course, they have only just begun. Yet it is not too late for policymakers to change the outcome for the better. All that is required is a grasp of the dynamics and a determination to grow economies through education, technology, investment, and improved health rather than the beggar-thy-neighbor currency policies of the past.
It would sure be nice if we had someone to speak with Xi Jinping who had a clue as to what economics are.
Unfortunately we don’t
The greedy don’t want to be bothered with 2% and 3% growth in world economies even though the little people would survive just fine. The greedy have to make 20% and 30% returns sucking it out of the little people because the money has to come from somewhere.
How and why economies function is not the problem, it’s greed getting in the way.
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