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Old 04-15-2009, 03:20 AM
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Wink Why Supplanting the Dollar Would Be Good for America


Why Supplanting the Dollar Would Be Good for America

By JUSTIN FOX Thursday, Apr. 09, 2009

New column: Down with the dollar! And up with the SDR! (Up with Esperanto, too, while we’re at it)
Or maybe not. In the past few weeks, another rival to the dollar — created in 1969 but dormant for most of the time since — has made a spectacular re-entry onto the world scene. It goes by the ungainly name of special drawing right (SDR), and it is the currency not of some foreign rival but of the Washington-based and traditionally U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF). It isn't even really its own currency, since it derives its value from a "basket" that contains dollars, euros, yen and pounds. (See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.)

But it sure has become popular. In late March, the head of China's central bank made headlines by arguing that the time had come for the SDR to supplant the dollar as the world's "supersovereign reserve currency." A few days later, a U.N. task force recommended the same thing. Then U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner endorsed giving SDRs a bigger role. After the dollar fell in currency markets in reaction, Geithner backpedaled. But at the G-20 meeting in London, President Barack Obama joined the assembled heads of state in agreeing to a nearly tenfold, $250 billion increase in the amount of SDRs available to be lent out. (Read "China Takes a Small Step Away from the Dollar.")

SDRs were created to supplement the Bretton Woods currency regime, which was built around a dollar linked to gold. After President Richard Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold in 1971 and allowed it to float freely in currency markets, the subsequent dollar crash led to talk of establishing the SDR as global reserve currency. That faded when the high interest rates set by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to throttle inflation lured foreigners back to the dollar in the early 1980s.

Since then, we've had an international monetary system in which the dollar is the main store of value. When countries want to protect themselves from the vagaries of global financial markets, they stockpile dollars the way nations in previous eras hoarded gold. This stockpiling has enabled the U.S. government to borrow almost without limit in global markets and until recently allowed American consumers to do the same.

Over the short term, this can seem like a positive; we can get away with running a federal deficit that could hit $2 trillion this year only because of the dollar's status as global reserve currency. But borrowing trillions isn't really a ticket to long-run prosperity. In fact, the current economic crisis may have been spawned by huge imbalances in global trade and capital flows that are in part the product of the dollar's special status. Global demand for dollars supplanted demand for U.S. products and services, argues Columbia University economist and longtime SDR fan Joseph Stiglitz, resulting in trade deficits, the decline of U.S. manufacturing — and years of supereasy mortgage credit. (Read "Is the Almighty Dollar Doomed?")

Shift those foreign dollar reserves into SDRs, the reasoning goes, and global finance suddenly becomes much more balanced. By no longer needing to load up on dollars, countries like China would have less incentive to run big trade surpluses with the U.S. This line of thought goes back to English economist John Maynard Keynes — the source of seemingly every important economic idea of this crisis-racked time — who first proposed what he called "supernational bank money" in 1930. During the economic turmoil of his day, he kept refining the idea and proposing odd names for the currency — first "grammor" and then "bancor." (He rejected a colleague's suggestion of "moy.")

Keynes led the British delegation to the 1944 conference in Bretton Woods, N.H., where Allied officials determined the postwar shape of the global financial system. He was unable to persuade his U.S. counterparts to give the institution at the heart of the new system, the IMF, the money-creation powers he envisioned. Those finally came in 1969 with the development of the SDR but remained limited in scope. No new SDRs have been created since 1981, and there are only 21.4 billion of them (equal in value to $31.9 billion).

The G-20 decision to create $250 billion in new SDRs marks a "major step" toward establishing the SDR as a global reserve currency, says Stiglitz. It's only a step, albeit enough of one to prompt Republican Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota to make the claim that Obama was out to ditch the dollar. Actually, the dollar would live on in an SDR-dominated world. It would no longer reign supreme, but neither would the yen or the euro or the yuan. Which might be the best long-run outcome the U.S. can hope for.

Why Supplanting the Dollar Would Be Good for America - TIME

See also: The Dangers of Printing Money
The Fed's doing it. The Bank of England says it plans to do it, too. With printing money (or as they say today, "quantitative easing") back in fashion, TIME reflects on Germany's efforts in the 1920s — and the crisis that followed.
The Dangers of Printing Money - Photo Essays - TIME

See also: Stores That Are No More
Photographer Brian Ulrich's images explore the haunted shells of America's devastated retail landscape
Why Supplanting the Dollar Would Be Good for America - TIME

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