16 March 2010

China's Mercantilism: Selling Them the Rope

"The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them." Vladimir Illyich Lenin

Here is Paul Krugman with a reasonably good explanation of what happens when countries 'manage' their currencies lower. It provides a boost to exports and an impediment to imports. It is not much different than restraints of trade like tariffs and subsidies.

This is not higher math. A few simple price/demand equations with currency exchange factors using high school algebra would suffice to show the power of currency manipulation and a devaluation of 40% as a form of 'competitive advantage.'

Although I am glad that some of the economic sites and economists are willing to discuss this now, and as always respect Paul Krugman for his frankness and learning, the question should be asked, "Where have the American economists been for the past ten years? This is not the first time a major economist has tried to discuss this, and primarily to little effect."

Now that Krugman has made it respectable the more timid are willing to speak, although some of the high profile economic pundits continue to uphold myths and propaganda to support their favorite commercial interests, think tanks, ideologies and honorariums.

It is hard to imagine another modern science that would have tolerated such obvious howlers as economics has recently done, and not only tolerated, but made major tenets and far-reaching public policy out of them. As my crusty statistics professor would say, "economics is sometimes more like marketing than mathematics: self-serving analysis surrounding bullshit assumptions and double-talk."

The Chinese manipulation of their currency was not subtle. China devalued the renminbi significantly in the latter part of the 1990's, and then pegged it to the dollar. It then penetrated the usual safeguards of fair trade laws by obtaining 'favorable' rulings first from Bill Clinton and then from W. Bush.

They ought not to have been granted full trade status until China allowed their currency to float on some prearranged conditions at the very least. One can only speculate on why two US presidents sold them the rope by which to hold the US economy hostage. It is probably nothing more than crony capitalism. As for the economic advisors that surround them, they often have little respect for fair and open markets because they themselves engage in market manipulation to support their policy objectives so much that it becomes a matter of course.

Fair Trade agreements and the WTO are a farce when they permit such dramatic currency manipulation, and this is the direct result of the existing fiat currency regime and a toleration and even encouragement of financial engineering. And globalization is something to always be regulated because of its profound effect on one's domestic markets and public policy. Otherwise the world sinks to the lowest common denominator of the abuses of reckless environmentalism and even slave labor of the worst tyranny for the sake of 'competitiveness.'

Multinational corporations' desires for export revenues and cheap goods do not trump national sovereign preferences for the rights and freedoms of the individual to which a people might commit themselves, and pledge their honor. The natural benefit of unrestrained globalization is a canard similar in nature to the fallacy of naturally efficient markets.

It suited some people to ignore it then because the arrangement provided cheap goods to the US while depressing the domestic manufacturing sector and working class incomes, while boosting the financial sector and masking monetary inflation and asset bubbles. It was a means of empowering and enriching Wall Street at the expense of the productive economy.

Now that China's currency manipulation does not suit them, they are willing to discuss it, since China is not 'playing ball' with the financial engineers and encouraging domestic consumption and adopting Western bankers as their masters.

There is also a realization that their financial engineering has brought the world to the brink of a global crisis of insolvency and a tremendous blow to authentic capitalism from which it may be difficult to recover. And they are afraid.

Of Bubbles and Busts: Which Way for China?

The Financialization of America and Currency Wars in China