Publications on Global imbalances
Working Paper No. 761 | March 2013
The Case of China
The recent declines in China’s financial account balance ended the “twin surplus” era and led to a modest decline in the stock of official reserves, which reflects a reversal in expectations for the Chinese currency. Negative balances, which have been visible in China’s financial balances since the last quarter of 2011, have heightened fears/anxiety in markets. These deficits stand in sharp contrast to the typical financial account surplus that existed until 2010. The announcement in September 2011 by Chinese monetary authorities of a “two-way floating” RMB in the foreign exchange market has unsettled market expectations and has led to a sharp fall in the financial balance. The latter brought a change in the expectations regarding the RMB-USD exchange rate. This change was reflected in the drop in foreign exchange assets, which was caused by a jump in short-term trade credits to prepay (for imports) in dollars, a rise in dollar advances from banks, and a withdrawal of dollar deposits. These changes have, of late, been a cause of concern relating to the future of China’s economic relations vis-à-vis trading and financial partners, which include the United States.
The experience of China, in a changing world beset with deregulation and with speculation affecting her external balance in recent years, provides further confirmation of John Maynard Keynes’s observation, in 1937, regarding uncertainty in markets: “About these matters there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know.”Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 705 | February 2012
Lessons from Argentina
The literature on public employment policies such as the job guarantee (JG) and the employer of last resort (ELR) often emphasizes their macroeconomic stabilization effects. But carefully designed and implemented policies like these can also have profound social transformative effects. In particular, they can help address enduring economic problems such as poverty and gender disparity. To examine how, this paper will look at the reform of Argentina’s Plan Jefes into Plan Familias. Plan Jefes was the hallmark stabilization policy of the Argentine government after the 2001 crisis. It guaranteed a public sector job in a community project to unemployed male and female heads of households. The vast majority of beneficiaries, however, turned out to be poor women. For a number of reasons that are explored below, the program was later reformed into a cash transfer policy, known as Plan Familias, that still exists today. The paper examines this reform in order to evaluate the relative impact of such policies on some of the most vulnerable members of society; namely, poor women. An examination of the Argentine experience based on survey evidence and fieldwork reveals that poor women overwhelmingly want paid work opportunities, and that a policy such as the JG or the ELR cannot only guarantees full employment and macroeconomic stabilization, but it can also serve as an institutional vehicle that begins to transform some of the structures and norms that produce and reproduce gender disparities. These transformative features of public employment policies are elucidated by turning to the capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen and elaborated by Martha Nussbaum—an approach commonly invoked in the feminist literature. This paper examines how the access to paid employment can enhance what Sen defines as an individual’s “substantive freedom.” Any policy that fosters genuine freedom begins with an understanding of what the targeted population (in this case, poor women) wants. It then devises a strategy that guarantees that such opportunities exist and removes the obstacles to accessing these opportunities.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 704 | January 2012
A Dissenting View
It is commonplace to link neoclassical economics to 18th- or 19th-century physics and its notion of equilibrium, of a pendulum once disturbed eventually coming to rest. Likewise, an economy subjected to an exogenous shock seeks equilibrium through the stabilizing market forces unleashed by the invisible hand. The metaphor can be applied to virtually every sphere of economics: from micro markets for fish that are traded spot, to macro markets for something called labor, and on to complex financial markets in synthetic collateralized debt obligations—CDOs. Guided by invisible hands, supplies balance demands and markets clear. Armed with metaphors from physics, the economist has no problem at all extending the analysis across international borders to traded commodities, to what are euphemistically called capital flows, and on to currencies themselves. Certainly there is a price, somewhere, somehow, that will balance supply and demand. The orthodox economist is sure that if we just get the government out of the way, the market will do the dirty work. The heterodox economist? Well, she is less sure. The market might not work. It needs a bit of coaxing. Imbalances can persist. Market forces can be rather impotent. The visible hand of government can hasten the move toward balance.
Orthodox economists as well as most heterodox economists see the Global Financial Crisis as a consequence of domestic and global imbalances. The most common story blames the US Federal Reserve for excessive monetary ease that spurred borrowing, and the US fiscal and trade imbalances for a surplus of liquidity sloshing around global financial markets. Looking to the specific problems in Euroland, the imbalances are attributed to profligate Mediterraneans. The solution is to restore global balance, which requires some combination of higher exchange rates for the Chinese, reduction of US trade deficits, and Teutonic fiscal discipline in the United States, the UK, and Japan, as well as on the periphery of Europe.
This paper takes an alternative view, following the sectoral balances approach of Wynne Godley, combined with the modern money theory (MMT) approach derived from the work of Innes, Knapp, Keynes, Lerner, and Minsky. The problem is not one of financial imbalance, but rather one of an imbalance of power. There is too much power in the hands of the financial sector, money managers, the predator state, and Europe’s center. There is too much privatization and pursuit of the private purpose, and too little use of government to serve the public interest. In short, there is too much neoliberalism and too little democracy, transparency, and accountability of government.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 7 | November 2010
The stability of the international reserve currency’s purchasing power is less a question of what serves as that currency and more a question of the international adjustment mechanism, as well as the compatibility of export-led development strategies with international payment balances. Export-led growth and free capital flows are the real causes of sustained international imbalances. The only way out of this predicament is to shift to domestic demand–led development strategies—and capital flows will have to be part of the solution.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 617 | September 2010
The Risk of Unraveling the Global Rebalancing
This paper investigates China’s role in creating global imbalances, and the related call for a massive renminbi revaluation as a (supposed) panacea to forestall their reemergence as the world economy recovers from severe crisis. We reject the prominence widely attributed to China as a cause of global imbalances and the exclusive focus on the renminbi-dollar exchange rate as misguided. And we emphasize that China's response to the global crisis has been exemplary. Apart from acting as a growth leader in the global recovery by boosting domestic demand to offset the slump in exports, China has in the process successfully completed the first stage in rebalancing its economy, which is in stark contrast to other leading trading nations that have simply resumed previous policy patterns. The second stage in China’s rebalancing will consist of further strengthening private consumption. We argue that this will be best supported by continued reliance on renminbi stability and capital account management, so as to assure that macroeconomic policies can be framed in line with domestic development requirements.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 597 | May 2010This paper sets out to investigate the forces and conditions that led to the emergence of global imbalances preceding the worldwide crisis of 2007–09, and both the likelihood and the potential sustainability of reemerging global imbalances as the world economy recovers from that crisis. The “Bretton Woods 2” hypothesis of sustainable global imbalances featuring a quasi-permanent US current account deficit overlooked that the domestic counterpart to the United States’ external deficit—soaring household indebtedness—was based not on safe debts but rather toxic ones. We critique the “global saving glut” hypothesis, and propose the “global dollar glut” hypothesis in its stead. With the US private sector in retrenchment mode, the question arises whether fiscal expansion might not only succeed in filling the gap in US domestic demand but also restart global arrangements along BW2 lines, albeit this time based on public debt—call it “Bretton Woods 3.” This paper explores the chances of a BW3 regime, highlighting the role of “dollar leveraging” in sustaining US trade deficits. Longer-term prospects for a postdollar standard are discussed in the light of John Maynard Keynes’s “bancor” plan.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 583 | November 2009
The Fiction and Reality of the 10th Anniversary Blast
This paper investigates why Europe fared particularly poorly in the global economic crisis that began in August 2007. It questions the self-portrait of Europe as the victim of external shocks, pushed off track by reckless policies pursued elsewhere. It argues instead that Europe had not only contributed handsomely to the buildup of global imbalances since the 1990s and experienced their implosive unwinding as an internal crisis from the beginning, but that it had also nourished its own homemade intra-Euroland and intra-EU imbalances, the simultaneous implosion of which has further aggravated Europe's predicament. To keep its own house in order in the future, Euroland must shun the outdated “stability oriented” policy wisdom inherited from Germany’s mercantilist past and Bundesbank mythology. Steps toward a fiscal union to back the euro are also warranted.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):