Policy Note 2009/8 | June 2009

Some Simple Observations on the Reform of the International Monetary System

The demand for reform of the financial system has focused on the dollar’s loss of international purchasing power (the Triffin dilemma) and its substitution by an international reserve currency that is not a national currency. The problem, however, is not the particular asset that serves as the international currency but rather the operation of the adjustment mechanism for dealing with global imbalances.

In a preliminary report issued in May, the Commission of Experts of the President of the United Nations General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System made clear that the international system suffers from an inherent tendency toward deficient aggregate demand, a reflection of the asymmetry in the international adjustment mechanism. Even the simple creation of a notional currency to be used in a clearing union (proposed by Keynes) cannot do this without some commitment to coordinated symmetric adjustment by both surplus and deficit countries. Thus, the first steps in the reform process must be (1) to offset the balance sheet losses caused by the collapse of asset values and (2) to provide an alternative source of demand to replace the US consumer and an alternative source of finance to offset the deleveraging of financial institutions. This can be done through the coordinated introduction of traditional, countercyclical deficit expenditure policies, on a global scale.

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