Tag Archives: international Reserves

The Challenges to the Dollar

The dollar’s position as the premier global currency has long seemed secure. The dollar accounts for about 60% of the foreign exchange reserves of central banks and similar proportions of international debt and loans. But recent developments raise the possibility of a transition to a stratified world economy in which the use of other currencies for regional trade and finance becomes more common.

Such a statement may seem to be inconsistent with the Federal Reserve’s activities to stabilize global financial markets. As it did during the global financial crisis of 2008-09, the Fed has activated currency swap lines with other central banks, including those of the Eurozone, Great Britain, Japan, Canada and Switzerland, as well as the monetary authorities of South Korea, Mexico and Singapore. Those central banks that do not have swap agreements can borrow dollars from the Fed via its new foreign and international monetary authorities (FIMA) facility. Under this program, central banks that need dollars for their domestic financial institutions exchange U.S. Treasury securities for dollars through a repurchase agreement. These moves accompany the Fed’s extensive range of activities to support the U.S. economy, which include cutting the federal funds rate to zero, purchasing large amounts of Treasury, mortgage backed and corporate securities, and lending to corporations and state and municipal governments.

But other governments are uneasy with the U.S. government’s use of the dollar’s position in international finance to enforce compliance with its foreign policy goals. International transactions in dollars are cleared through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) banking network and the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS). The U.S. has denied foreign banks access to these systems when they wanted to penalize the banks for dealing with governments or companies that the U.S. seeks to punish. This practice has become more common under the Trump administration, which has used the sanctions to strike at Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela and others.

European leaders have made clear that they find this use of the dollar’s international role no longer acceptable. When the U.S. abandoned the agreements on nuclear weapons with Iran, European banks were forced to choose between defying the U.S. or their own governments, which encouraged them to continue their ties with Iran. In response, Britain, France and Germany have founded a clearing house, Instex, to serve as an alternative system, and several other European Union members will join it. Moreover, if the Europeans proceed with the issuance of a common EU bond, there will be an alternative safe asset to U.S. Treasury bonds that will foster the use of the euro in foreign exchange reserves.

China is also moving to encourage the international acceptance of its currency as an alternative to the dollar. The Chinese bond market is the world’s second largest, and the foreign appetite for Chinese bonds has increased. Foreigners bought $60 billion of Chinese government bonds last year, and now hold 8.8% of these bonds. Some of these bonds will be held by central banks diversifying the composition of their foreign currency reserves.

China’s Belt and Road Initiatives have expanded its economic presence in emerging markets, which also leads to a wider usage of its currency. Chinese investments in infrastructure and other projects in these countries increase the usage of the renminbi, as will the trade that follows.  The number of banks processing payments in renminbi has grown greatly in recent years, and most of these banks are based in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

There are obstacles to the wider use of both the euro and the renminbi. While Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced support of a common European bond, the heads of other European governments have expressed their concerns.  China continues to maintain capital controls, although it has allowed foreigners to invest in the bond market through Hong Kong. But the imposition of a new security law for Hong Kong raises concerns about China’s willingness to allow financial concerns to affect its political goals.

The euro was once more widely seen as a viable alternative to the dollar. Hiro Ito and Cesar Rodriguez of Portland State University in their recent research paper, “Clamoring for Greenbacks: Explaining the Resurgence of the U.S. Dollar in International Debt”, examine the determinants of the currency composition of international debt securities. In their analysis they undertake a counterfactual analysis to examine what would have happened to the shares of the dollar and the euro in the composition of these securities if the global financial crisis had not occurred. They report that the predicted share of the euro in international debt would have been higher than it actually has been, while the share of the dollar would be lower.

When Ito and Rodriguez wrote their paper, they forecast that the dollar would continue to be the dominant international currency. But the Trump administration has damaged the international standing of the U.S., and this will have long-term consequences. Benjamin J. Cohen of UC-Santa Barbara has pointed out that “…there is palpable resentment over Trump’s indiscriminate use of financial sanctions to punish countries…” More generally, the U.S. government has sought to limit the county’s international interactions.

Harold James of Princeton wrote about the dominance of the dollar after the global financial crisis in his book, The Creation and Destruction of Value: the Globalization Cycle, which was published in 2009. At that time he foresaw the central role of the dollar as continuing because of the “political and military might of the U.S.”, as well as its economic potential. But he also stated that:

 “Such concentrations of power can be self-sustaining when they attract not only the capital resources, but also the human resources (primarily through skilled immigration) that allow exceptional productivity growth to continue.”

James warned that if a country closes itself off from exchanges with other nations, its relative decline can be hastened. He pointed out that:

“Since the isolationist impulse is a major strand in the American political tradition, it is impossible to close off this possibility; in fact, its likelihood increases as the economic and political situation deteriorates.”

The pandemic has the potential of serving as an inflection point, which follows a period of confrontations with other countries over trade. The fumbled response of the U.S. to the pandemic will encourage the governments of Europe and China to extend their influence in the financial sphere.  A world with several dominant currencies need not be inferior to one with a single hegemonic currency. But it will come about in large part as a result of the self-inflected damage that the Trump administration has perpetrated on the international standing of the U.S.

The Exorbitant Privilege in a World of Low Interest Rates

The U.S. dollar has long enjoyed what French finance minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing called an “exorbitant privilege.”  The U.S. can finance its current account deficits and acquisition of foreign assets by issuing Treasury securities that are held by foreign central banks as reserves. The dollar’s share of foreign reserves, while falling, remains over 60%.  But in a world of low interest rates, how exorbitant is this privilege, and is it solely a U.S. phenomenon?

John Plender of the Financial Times has pointed out that U.S. Treasury bonds offer a rate of return that matches or is higher than that of other government bonds with similar risk ratings.  This is true whether we look at nominal returns or real rates of return. The nominal returns reported below are those available on the ten-year government bonds of Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S., while the changes in prices are those reported for their Consumer Price Indexes :

 

Nominal Return Change in Prices Real Return
Germany -0.05% 2.0% -2.05%
Japan -0.06% 0.5% -0.56%
U.K. 1.13% 1.9% -0.77%
U.S. 2.47% 1.9% 0.57%

 

The bonds of other advanced economies offer higher yields but more risk. The rate of return on ten-year Italian government bonds is 2.68% and on Greek bonds 3.49%. An investor in government bonds can do better in Brazil (8.76%) or Mexico (8.09%), but these securities also come with the risk of depreciation.

Private foreign investors also hold U.S. Treasury debt as well as U.S. corporate securities. John Ammer of the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) , Stijn Claessens of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Alexandra Tabova (FRB) and Caleb Wroblewski (FDB) analyzed the foreign private holdings of U.S. bonds in “Home Country Interest Rates and International Investment in U.S. Bonds,” published in the  Journal of International Money and Finance in 2018 (working paper here). They collected data for 31 countries where private residents held both U.S. Treasury securities and corporate bonds during the period of 2003-2016.  They found that low domestic interest rates led to increased holdings of U.S. bonds, and in particular, corporate securities. The corporate share of foreign-held U.S. securities in these countries had risen to about 60% by the end of their sample period.

The “long equity, short debt” structure of the U.S. external balance sheet is not unique to the U.S. Robert McCauley of the BIS in “Does the US Dollar Confer an Exorbitant Privilege?”, also published in the JIMF in 2015, shows that foreign holdings of Australian government bonds have allowed that country to accumulate foreign currency assets. Some of these holdings were attributed to the desire of foreign central banks to hold safe and liquid assets.

U.S. Treasury securities possess an appeal besides their relatively attractive rates of return in a world of low interest rates. They are seen as safe assets, and given the size of the U.S. economy and the liquidity of its capital markets, it is not surprising that they hold a predominant role in the global financial system. But Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas of UC-Berkeley, Hélène Rey of the London Business School and Maxime Sauzet of UC-Berkeley have pointed out in “The International Monetary and Financial System” (NBER Working paper #25782) that the mounting size of the eternal debt of the U.S. may lead to a loss of confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to service it without engaging in inflationary finance or triggering a depreciation of the dollar. At the same time, the relative size of the U.S. economy in global output is shrinking while the demand for dollar liquidity is growing. They conclude that this may be the basis of a “New Triffin Dilemma.”

There is, however, another, more immediate danger. The U.S. reached its debt ceiling of $22 trillion on March 2. The Department of the Treasury can engage in various measures to continue paying the government’s bills until next fall. The White House wants to obtain a rise in the debt ceiling this spring before it has to engage in budget negotiations with Congress. But given the toxic relations between the Trump administration and the House of Representatives, the danger of a lack of agreement cannot be dismissed. The Trump administration promised to disrupt the global order, and the full extent of that disruption may have only begun.

The Continuing Dominance of the Dollar

Ten years after the global financial crisis, we are still coming to an understanding of how profound a shock it was. The changes in political alignments within and across nations and the diminished public support for globalization continue. But one aspect of the financial system has not changed: the dominance of the U.S. dollar in the monetary system.

An article by Fernando Eguren Martin, Mayukh Mukhopadhyay and Carlos van Hombeeck of the Bank of England in the BOE’s Quarterly Bulletin documents the different international roles of the dollar. First, it continues to be the main currency in central bank reserves, with a share of about 70% of total holdings. Second, the dollar is used as an invoicing currency for many international transactions, such as commodity sales. Third, firms outside the U.S. obtain funding through dollar-denominated bank loans and debts.

The use of the dollar for finance has also been examined by Iñaki Aldasoro and Torsten Ehlers of the Bank for International Settlements in an article in the BIS Quarterly Review. They report a rise in the use of international debt securities, driven primarily by dollar denominated debt issued by non-U.S. residents. The increase in such funding is particularly noticeable in emerging markets economies in Asia and Latin America. This debt includes sovereign bonds issued by governments that sought to lock in low interest rates.

What about the alternatives? A report on the international role of the euro issued by the European Central Bank acknowledges the primacy of the dollar. An index of the global status of the euro developed at the ECB shows a decline in the last fifteen years, which may have stabilized in the most recent year. This includes a fall in the euro’s share of international debt securities. The report also notes that the deleveraging of Eurozone banks as they built up their capital ratios led these banks to reduce their cross-border lending.

Why does the dollar continue to possess a hegemonic status a decade after the crisis that seemed to signal an end to U.S.-U.K. dominated finance? Gillian Tett of the Financial Times offers several reasons. The first is the global reach of U.S. based banks. U.S. banks are seen as stable, particularly when compared to European banks. Any listing of the largest international banks will be dominated by Chinese banks, and these institutions have expanded their international business.  But the Chinese banks will conduct business in dollars when necessary. Tett’s second reason is the relative strength of the U.S. economy, which grew at a 4.1% pace in the second quarter. The third reason is the liquidity and credibility of U.S. financial markets, which are superior to those of any rivals.

The U.S. benefits from its financial dominance in several ways. Jeff Sachs of Columbia University points out that the cost of financing government deficits is lower due to the acceptance of U.S. Treasury securities as “riskless assets.” U.S. banks and other institutions earn profits on their foreign operations. In addition, the use of our banking network for international transactions provides the U.S. government with a powerful foreign policy tool in the form of sanctions that exclude foreign individuals, firms or governments from this network.

There are risks to the system with this dependence. As U.S. interest rates continue to rise, loans that seemed reasonable before now become harder to finance. The burden of dollar-denominated debt also increases as the dollar appreciates. These developments exacerbate the repercussions of policy mistakes in Argentina and Turkey, but also affect other countries as well.

The IMF in its latest Global Financial Stability (see also here) identifies another potential destabilizing feature of the current system. The IMF reports that the U.S. dollar balance sheets of non-U.S. banks show a reliance on short-term or wholesale funding. This reliance leaves the banks vulnerable to a liquidity freeze. The IMF is particularly concerned about the use of foreign exchange swaps, as swap markets can be quite volatile. While central banks have stablished their own network of swap lines, these have been criticized.

The status of the dollar as the primary international currency is not welcomed by foreign governments. The Russian government, for example, is seeking to use other currencies for its international commerce. China and Turkey have offered some support, but China is invested in promoting the use of its own currency. In addition, Russia’s dependence on its oil exports will keep it tied to the dollar.

But interest in formulating a new international payments system has now spread outside of Russia and China. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has called for the establishment of “U.S. independent payment channels” that would allow European firms to continue to deal with Iran despite the U.S. sanctions on that country. Chinese electronic payments systems are being used in Europe and the U.S. The dollar may not be replaced, but it may have to share its role as an international currency with other forms of payment if foreign nations calculate that the benefits of a new system outweigh its cost. Until now that calculation has always favored the dollar, but the reassessment of globalization initiated by the Trump administration may have lead to unexpected consequences.

A Guide to the (Financial) Universe: Part II

(Part I of this Guide appears here.)

3. Crisis and Response

The global crisis revealed that the pre-crisis financial universe was more fragile than realized at the time. Before the crisis, this fragility was masked by low interest rates, which were due in part to the buildup of foreign reserves in the form of U.S. securities by emerging market economies. The high ratings that mortgage backed securities (MBS) in the U.S. received from the rating agencies depended on these low interest rates and rising housing prices. Once interest rates increased, however, and housing values declined, mortgage borrowers—particularly those considered “subprime”—abandoned their properties. The value of the MBS fell, and financial institutions in the U.S. and Europe sought to remove them from their balance sheets, which reinforced the downward spiral in their values.

The global crisis was followed by a debt crisis in Europe. The governments of Ireland and Spain bolstered their financial institutions which had also lent extensively to the domestic housing sectors, but their support led to a deterioration in their own finances. Similarly, the safety of Greek government bonds was called into question as the scope of Greek deficit expenditures became clear, and there were concerns about Portugal’s finances.

Different systems of response and support emerged during the crises. In the case of the advanced economies, their central banks coordinated their domestic policy responses. In addition, the Federal Reserve organized currency swap networks with its counterparts in countries where domestic banks had participated in the MBS markets, as well as several emerging market economies (Brazil, Mexico, South Korea and Singapore) where dollars were also in demand. The central banks were then able to provide dollar liquidity to their banks. The European Central Bank provided similar currency arrangements for countries in that region, as did the Swiss National Bank and the corresponding Scandinavian institutions.

The emerging market countries that were not included in such arrangements had to rely on their own foreign exchange reserves to meet the demand for dollars as well as respond to exchange rate pressures. Subsequently, fourteen Asian economies formed the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization, which allows them to draw upon swap arrangements. China has also signed currency swap agreements with fourteen other countries.

In addition, emerging market economies and developing economies received assistance from the International Monetary Fund, which organized arrangements with 17 countries from the outbreak of the crisis through the following summer. The Fund had been severely criticized for its policies during the Asian crisis of 1997-98, but its response to this crisis was very different. Credit was disbursed more quickly and in larger amounts than had occurred in past crises, and there were fewer conditions attached to the programs. Countries in Asia and Latin America with credible records of macroeconomic policies were able to boost domestic spending while drawing upon their reserve holdings to stabilize their exchange rates. The IMF’s actions contributed to the recovery of these countries from the external shock.

The IMF played a very different role in the European debt crisis. It joined the European Commission, which represented European governments, and the European Central Bank to form the “Troika.” These institutions made loans to Ireland in 2010 and Portugal in 2011 in return for deficit-reduction policies, while Spain received assistance in 2012 from the other Eurozone governments. In 2013 a banking crisis in Cyprus also required assistance from the Troika.These countries eventually recovered and exited the lending programs.

Greece’s crisis, however, has been more protracted and the provisions of its program are controversial. The IMF and the European governments have been criticized for delaying debt reduction while insisting on harsh budget austerity measures. The IMF also came under attack for suborning its independence by joining the Troika, and its own Independent Evaluation Office subsequently published a report that raised questions about its institutional autonomy and accountability.

In the aftermath of the crisis, new regulations—called “macroprudential policies”—have been implemented to reduce systemic risk within the financial system. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, for example, has instituted higher bank capital and liquidity requirements. Other rules include restrictions on loan-to-value ratios. These measures are designed both to prevent the occurrence of credit bubbles and to make financial institutions more resilient. A European Banking Authority has been established to set uniform regulations on European banks and to assess risks. In the U.S., a Financial Stability Oversight Council was given the task of identifying threats to financial stability.

The crisis also caused a reassessment of capital account restrictions. The IMF, which had urged the deregulation of capital accounts before the Asian crisis of 1997-98, published in 2012 a new set of guidelines, named the “institutional view.” The Fund acknowledged that rapid capital flows surges or outflows could be disruptive, and that under some circumstances capital flow management measures could be useful. Capital account liberalization is appropriate only when countries reach threshold levels of institutional and financial development.

One legacy of the response to the crisis is the expansion of central bank balance sheets. The assets of the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Federal Reserve rose to $15 trillion as the central banks engaged in large-scale purchases of assets, called “quantitative easing”. The Federal Reserve ceased purchasing securities in 2014, and the ECB is expected to cut back its purchases later this year.  But the unwinding of these holdings is expected to take place gradually over many years, and monetary policymakers have signaled that their balance sheets are unlikely to return to their pre-crisis sizes.

(to be continued)

Assigned Readings: February 8, 2014

Based on a dataset of 112 emerging economies and developing countries, this paper addresses two key questions regarding the accumulation of international reserves: first, has the accumulation of reserves effectively protected countries during the 2008-09 financial crisis? And second, what explains the pattern of reserve accumulation observed during and after the crisis? More specifically, the paper investigates the relation between international reserves and the existence of capital controls. We find that the level of reserves matters: countries with high reserves relative to short-term debt suffered less from the crisis, particularly if associated with a less open capital account. In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, countries that depleted foreign reserves during the crisis quickly rebuilt their stocks. This rapid rebuilding has, however, been followed by a deceleration in the pace of accumulation. The timing of this deceleration roughly coincides with the point when reserves reached their pre-crisis level and may be related to the fact that short-term debt accumulation has also decelerated in most countries over this period.

We explore the role of financial openness – capital account openness and gross capital inflows – and a newly constructed gravity‐based contagion index to assess the importance of these factors in the run‐up to currency crises. Using a quarterly data set of 46 advanced and emerging market economies (EMEs) during the period 1975Q1‐2011Q4, we estimate a multi‐variable probit model including in the post‐Lehman period. Our key findings are as follows. First, capital account openness is a robust indicator, reducing the probability of currency crisis for advanced economies, but less so for EMEs. Second, surges in gross (but not net) capital inflows in general increase the risk of a currency crisis, but looking at a disaggregated level, gross portfolio flows increase the risk of a currency crisis for advanced economies, whereas gross FDI inflows decrease the risk of a crisis for EMEs. Third, contagion has a very strong impact, consistent with the past literature, especially during the post‐ Lehman shock episode. Last, our model performs well out‐of‐sample, confirming that early warning models were helpful in judging relative vulnerability of countries during and since the Lehman crisis.

This paper revisits the bipolar prescription for exchange rate regime choice and asks two questions: are the poles of hard pegs and pure floats still safer than the middle? And where to draw the line between safe floats and risky intermediate regimes? Our findings, based on a sample of 50 EMEs over 1980-2011, show that macroeconomic and financial vulnerabilities are significantly greater under less flexible intermediate regimes—including hard pegs—as compared to floats. While not especially susceptible to banking or currency crises, hard pegs are significantly more prone to growth collapses, suggesting that the security of the hard end of the prescription is largely illusory. Intermediate regimes as a class are the most susceptible to crises, but “managed floats”—a subclass within such regimes—behave much more like pure floats, with significantly lower risks and fewer crises. “Managed floating,” however, is a nebulous concept; a characterization of more crisis prone regimes suggests no simple dividing line between safe floats and risky intermediate regimes.

This paper examines the effectiveness of capital outflow restrictions in a sample of 37 emerging market economies during the period 1995-2010, using a panel vector autoregression approach with interaction terms. Specifically, it examines whether a tightening of outflow restrictions helps reduce net capital outflows. We find that such tightening is effective if it is supported by strong macroeconomic fundamentals or good institutions, or if existing restrictions are already fairly comprehensive. When none of these three conditions is fulfilled, a tightening of restrictions fails to reduce net outflows as it provokes a sizeable decline in gross inflows, mainly driven by foreign investors.

The Stars and Stripes Forever?

Global imbalances are once again a focus of discussion. This time, however, it is Germany, not China, which is identified as the major surplus country and an obstacle to economic recovery.  The German surplus, it is alleged, makes adjustment harder in the Eurozone’s periphery countries.

Much less attention has been paid to the other side of the imbalances: the deficits in the U.S. current account. The U.S. balance of payments position reflects the dollar’s role as a global reserve currency. Andreas Steiner has shown in “Current Account Balance and the Dollar Standard: Exploring the Linkages” (Journal of International Money and Finance, in press) that the demand for reserves lowers the U.S. current account by one to two percentage points of GDP.

The demand for those reserves is not likely to diminish any time soon. Rakesh Mohan, Michael Debabrata Patra and Muneesh Kapur, in an IMF working paper, “The International Monetary System: Where Are We and Where Do We Need to Go?”, analyze the increase in reserves by major emerging market countries who may turn to reserve accumulation to expand their central bank balance sheets. They project the demand for foreign exchange reserves for seven emerging markets ((Brazil, Hong King, China, India, Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia) under different scenarios for the mix of domestic and foreign assets, and estimate that their holdings of net foreign assets will increase from $6 trillion in 2011 to between $7.8 trillion and $14.9 trillion by 2017.  They caution that other emerging markets, such as oil exporters, are not included in their projections, and the demand for foreign assets may be higher.

The use of the dollar as an international currency appears in private markets as well. Mohan, Patra and Kapur present data that show the dollar with a 44 percent share of the global foreign exchange market. The dollar’s predominance in the foreign exchange market is matched by its use in international banking and bond markets.

Joseph Gagnon in “Global Imbalances and Foreign Asset Expansion by Developing-Economy Central Banks” has argued that the demand for dollar-denominated assets by central banks drives the balance of payments surpluses in many emerging markets.  If the dollar retains its status as a reserve currency, then there will always be a demand for dollars that feeds into the balance of payments. Until there is a credible alternative (or alternatives), global imbalances that include U.S. deficits will be an inherent feature of the international monetary system.

What could threaten the dollar’s special status? Emmanuel Farhi, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Hélène Rey argue in their Reforming the International Monetary System that the “backing” of the dollar, which took the form of gold under the Bretton Woods system, now exists in U.S. Treasury securities. If there is a change in perception about the reliability of this backing, then the transition to a multipolar reserve currency system may be more abrupt than desired.

1944, 1976, 2013?

When the financial crisis of 2007 was changing into the Great Recession of 2008-09, national leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown turned to the Bretton Woods conference of 1944 for inspiration. They invoked the spirit of the conference as they sought to resolve the crisis and devise regulations that would allow them to rein in the financial institutions that they held responsible for instigating the crisis. Indeed, Bretton Woods is often used as a model of international cooperation. (See, for example, here and here.)

But Bretton Woods is an odd choice for a prototype of international collaboration. Benn Steil in The Battle of Bretton Woods has shown how the conference proceedings were controlled by the U.S. delegation headed by Harry White, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. John Maynard Keynes, a member of the British delegation, was out-maneuvered by White, and the final agreement reflected the U.S. vision for the post-war international monetary regime more than anyone else’s. While the conference had a Quota Committee, for example, in reality the quotas assigned the members were chosen by the U.S. officials.

A more apt historical precedent may be the negotiations that took place during the early 1970s over the design of an international monetary system to replace Bretton Woods. Michelle Frasher has provided an account of these consultations in Transatlantic Politics and the Transformation of the International Monetary System. The U.S. had ended the conversion of gold for dollars by foreign central banks in August 1971. This act, according to Frasher, reflected the belief of U.S. President Richard Nixon and his Treasury Secretary John Connally that maintaining gold conversion limited their domestic and foreign policy options rather than any ideological view regarding Bretton Woods.

However, George Schultz, Connally’s successor as Treasury Secretary, came to favor floating exchange rates after the breakdown of the Smithsonian agreement in 1973. But while the U.S. had been able to dominate its Allies in 1944, it faced a different situation in the early 1970s.  It could not ignore the wishes of its major European allies, France, West Germany and Great Britain, which were concerned about unconstrained markets. The French in particular sought to place restraints on the ability of nations to maintain floating rates. In the end, the U.S. and French negotiators agreed to amend the IMF’s Article IV to include a commitment by the IMF’s members “to assure orderly exchange arrangements and to promote a stable system of exchange rates…” The IMF is still struggling to explain what this means in terms of which practices are permissible and which are not.

Over three decades later, many of the same tensions persist. Now, however, it is China and other Asian countries that express concerns about the U.S. Frasher (p. 135), for example, describes the source of the Europeans’ resentment in the 1970s:

…the US tendency to behave paternally and use its reserve status to disregard European opinions, act unilaterally on major policy initiatives, frame the relations in terms of US interests, and dictate the conditions of international monetary reform constantly frustrated European views about partnership. The economic and political differences within the transatlantic alliance made for an unconstructive, uneven, and often tense partnership.

Substitute “Asian” for “European” and “transpacific” for “transatlantic,” and we have a good summary of the Asians’ current views of the U.S. For example, Justin Yifu Lin, a former Chief Economist of the World Bank and the founding director of the China Center for Economic Research, wrote in Against the Consensus: Reflections on the Great Recession (p. 156)

One of the main flaws in the nonsystem that evolved in the post-Bretton-Woods period eventually led to the 2008-9 global crisis: the potential conflict of interest between US macroeconomic policy for domestic objectives and the dollar’s role as a global reserve currency…Inevitably, national economic concerns guided US fiscal and monetary policies, at times in ways that were detrimental to global stability.

Similarly, Xu Hongcai of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges in an article in the Global Summitry Journal co-authored with Yves Tiberghien wrote (p. 10):

Despite the status of the US as anchor for the global monetary system, the US central bank, the Federal Reserve is strictly mandated to set its monetary policy with consideration for US inflation, growth, and employment only. There is no channel for inputs from the rest of the world in managing the world’s currency. Thus, the major international reserve currency issuer continues to implement quantitative easing monetary policies in light of the needs of its own economy without considering the global spillover effect of such policies. These policies have caused inflationary pressures on emerging economies, and in turn increased the systemic risks of the global financial system.

After 1976, France gave up trying to devise a rule-based global system and turned to a regional system. What are China’s options? It has already shown a willingness to join with other Asian nations in a currency swap arrangement, the Chiang Mai initiative. It has the potential to do more, and could become a regional reserve currency. But to increase the use of the renminbi would require further financial decontrol, and until recently it did not appear that the government was ready to move in that direction. Most observers thought that a “fully global renminbi was a distant goal.”

The political battles over the debt ceiling, however, may push the Chinese government to rethink its long-run plans for the renminbi. Chinese officials expressed their frustration with the indifference of the U.S. to the global consequences of its domestic political discord. If Chinese policymakers now advance their timetable for expanding the renminbi’s use as a global currency, we may look back at 2013 as an inflection point.