segunda-feira, junho 02, 2014

Bretton Woods II

Enquanto os cães indígenas ladram, a caravana passa e Paul Volcker recomenda um novo Bretton Woods

By now I think we can agree that the absence of an official, rules-based cooperatively managed, monetary system has not been a great success. In fact, international financial crises seem at least as frequent and more destructive in impeding economic stability and growth.

The United States, in particular, had in the 1970’s an unhappy decade of inflation ending in stagflation. The major Latin American debt crisis followed in the 1980’s. There was a serious banking crisis late in that decade, followed by a new Mexican crisis, and then the really big and damaging Asian crisis. Less than a decade later, it was capped by the financial crisis of the 2007-2009 period and the great Recession. Not a pretty picture. At the least, we have been reminded that while free and open capital markets may be needed to support vigorous growth, they are also prone to crisis. The more complex, interrelated and free from official restraints, the greater the collective risk.

For years, the benefits were reflected in the enormous growth and the reduction in poverty of emerging economies. The contrasting concerns are reflected in the slowing of growth and productivity in the industrialized world.

We can all recite a rather long list of culprits contributing to the financial crisis: excessive leverage, outlandish compensation, failures in regulatory oversight, simple greed, and on and on. What I want to raise is what seems to be a neglected question. Amid all the market and institutional excesses, all the regulatory omissions, most of all, the legitimate questions about the underlying failures of national economic policies, has the absence of a well-functioning international monetary system been an enabling (or instigating) condition? Specifically, did the absence of international oversight, of discipline in financing, of exchange rate management permit – even encourage – unsustainable imbalances in international payments and in domestic economies to persist too long?

Many have pointed, for instance, to the huge imbalances at the beginning of this century in international payments between the United States on one side and China and Japan on the other – the largest economies in the world. Those imbalances were easily financed. The result was that a high degree of liquidity at low interest rates could be maintained in the United States, despite the virtual disappearance of domestic savings. The sub-prime mortgage phenomenon was an outgrowth. At the same time, exceptionally high levels of savings and investment in China supported exports without working toward a more balanced economy, including the domestic consumption that would be necessary to sustain Chinese growth in the years ahead.

Where was an effective adjustment mechanism? Was the “exorbitant privilege” of the dollar as a reserve currency also a “dangerous temptation” to procrastinate - an impediment to timely policy adjustments, risking eventual breakdown?

The current travails of the Eurozone (the equivalent of an absolute fixed exchange rate regime) carry interesting lessons. A single currency with the free flows of funds among the member states simply could not substitute for the absence of a unified banking system and incentives for disciplined and complementary national economic policies.

That is all a long introduction to a plea – a plea for attention to the need for developing an international monetary and financial system worthy of our time.


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