Via The Economist:
Worries about the dollar’s dominance of the global monetary system are not new. But debate about replacing the beleaguered dollar, whose trade-weighted value has dropped by 11.5% since its peak in March 2009, has resurfaced in the wake of a global financial and economic crisis that began in America. China and Russia, which have huge reserves that are mainly dollar denominated, have talked about shifting away from the greenback. India changed the composition of its reserves by buying 200 tonnes of gold from the IMF.
None of this threatens the dominance of the dollar yet, particularly as a dramatic shift out of the currency would be damaging to the countries (such as China) that hold a huge amount of dollar-denominated assets. But a new paper by economists at the IMF, released on Wednesday November 11th, acknowledges that the global crisis has reignited the debate about anchoring the world’s monetary system on one country’s currency.
Some say that America’s role as the principal issuer of the global reserve currency gives it an unfair advantage. America has a unique ability to borrow from foreigners in its own currency, and wins when the dollar depreciates, since its assets are mainly in foreign currency and its liabilities in dollars. By one estimate America enjoyed a net capital gain of around $1 trillion from the gradual depreciation of the dollar in the years before the crisis.
In a sense the world is hostage to America’s ability to maintain the value of the dollar. But as the IMF points out, the currency’s primacy arises at least partly because China and other emerging countries have chosen to accumulate dollar reserves. The depth of America’s financial markets and the country’s open capital account have made the dollar attractive. So some of the advantage has been earned.
But large and persistent surpluses in countries like China mean continued demand for American assets, reducing the need for fiscal adjustment by either country. This, in turn, has contributed to the build-up of the macroeconomic imbalances that many blame for the financial crisis.
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