The possibility of currency and trade wars and how to avert them were major topics at the G20 meeting in Seoul on 11 and 12 November 2010. Some countries, such as the USA and the UK have been running large current account deficits. Others, such as China, Germany and Japan have been running large current account surpluses. But balance of payments accounts must balance. Thus there have been equal and opposite imbalances on the financial plus capital accounts. Large amounts of finance and capital have flowed from the trade-surplus to the trade-deficit countries. In particular China holds a vast amount of US dollar assets: a debt for the USA.
The trade and finance imbalances are linked to exchange rates. The USA has accused China of keeping its exchange rate artificially low, which boosts Chinese exports and further exacerbates the trade and finance imbalances. The USA is keen to see an appreciation of the Chinese yuan (also known as the renminbi). The Chinese response is that the USA is asking China to take medicine to cure America’s disease.
So was the meeting in Seoul successful in achieving a global response to trade and exchange rate problems? Has it averted currency and trade wars? Or were national interests preventing a concrete agreement? The articles look at the outcomes of the talks.
G20 pledge to avoid currency war gets lukewarm reception Guardian, Phillip Inman and Patrick Wintour (12/11/10)
G20 fails to agree on trade and currencies Financial Times, Chris Giles, Alan Beattie and Christian Oliver (12/11/10)
Main points of the G20 Seoul summit document Reuters (12/11/10)
Factbox: Outcome of the Seoul G20 summit Reuters (12/11/10)
No deal: Seoul’s G20 summit fails to deliver on currencies, trade imbalances The Australian, Laurence Norman and Ian Talley, Dow Jones Newswires (12/11/10)
G20 to tackle US-China currency concerns BBC News (12/11/10)
The expectations game BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (12/11/10)
Obama: Imbalances threaten growth BBC News (12/11/10)
Obama leaves G-20 empty-handed on currency spat msnbc (12/11/10)
The ghost at the feast The Economist, Newsbook blog (12/11/10)
Forget summit failures, look at G20 record Financial Times, Christian Oliver, Chris Giles and Alan Beattie (12/11/10)
Obama warns nations not to rely on exports to US BBC News (13/11/12)
G20 summit distracted by ‘currency wars’ Guardian, Mark Weisbrot (12/11/10)
Current account targets are a way back to the future Financial Times podcasts, Martin Wolf (2/11/10) (Click here for transcript)
Ben Bernanke hits back at Fed critics BBC News (19/11/10)
Why should you care about currency wars? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (9/11/10)
G20 Korea, home page
Korean G20 site
2010 G-20 Seoul summit Wikipedia
- What are the causes of the large trade imbalances in the world?
- What problems arise from large trade imbalances?
- What is meant by beggar-my-neighbour policies?
- Are moves towards freer trade a zero-sum game? Explain.
- Are moves towards protectionism a zero-sum game? Explain.
- Are attempts to get a realignment of currencies a zero-sum game? Explain.
- How successful has the G20 been over the past two or three years?
- Would it be desirable for governments to pursue current account targets?
With countries around the globe struggling to recover from recession, many seem to believe that the answer lies in a growth in exports. But how can this be achieved? A simple solution is to lower the exchange rate.
Under a pegged exchange rate, the currency could be devalued. Alternatively, if the country’s inflation is lower than that of other countries, merely leaving the exchange rate pegged at its current level will bring about a real devaluation (in purchasing-power parity terms).
Under a floating exchange rate, one answer would be to lower interest rates. This would involve open market operations to support the lower rate and that would increase the money supply. But with central banks’ interest rates at virtually zero, it is not possible to lower them further. In such circumstances a solution would be a deliberate policy of increasing the money supply through “quantitative easing”. For example, the USA is considering a second round of quantitative easing (known as “QE2”). This would tend to push down the exchange rate of the dollar.
But stimulating exports through devaluation or depreciation is a zero-sum game globally. If currency A depreciates against currency B, currency B necessarily appreciates against currency A. Country A’s gain in exports to Country B are an increase in imports for Country B. It is logically impossible for every currency in the world to depreciate! Yet depreciation is exactly the policy being pursued by countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, all of which have directly intervened in the currency markets to lower their exchange rates. And, in each case of course, other countries’ currencies have an equivalent appreciation against them.
Economists and politicians in the USA argue that the dollar is fundamentally over valued against the Chinese yuan (or ‘renminbi’ as it is sometimes called). They are calling on China to revalue by far more than the 2% increase since June 2010. But what if China refuses to do so? On 29 September the House of Representatives passed a bill giving the executive branch the authority to impose a wide range of tariffs on imports from China. The bill was passed with a huge majority of 348 to 79.
So is this the start of a trade war? Many in the USA argue that China is already waging such a war by giving subsidies to a wide range of exports. And that war is hotting up. China has just announced that it is imposing traiffs ranging from 50% to 104% on various poultry imports from the USA. And if it is a trade war, will there be any winners? The following articles investigate.
Global recovery’s weakness raises possibility of trade war Guardian, Larry Elliott (4/10/10)
Tension mounts as China and US trade insults over currency Independent, Stephen Foley (1/10/10)
Is the world in a trade war? Time Magazine blogs: The Curious Capitalist, Michael Schuman (29/9/10)
Trade War Is Here – and We’ve Disarmed The Huffington Post, Robert Kuttner (3/10/10)
US House Passes Anti-China Trade War Bill GlobalResearch.ca, Barry Grey (1/10/10)
Currencies the key to market’s next move BBC News, Jamie Robertson (3/10/10)
A Message for China New York Times (30/9/10)
Taking On China New York Times, Paul Krugman (30/9/10)
Krugman Makes Two Powerful Arguments Against “Taking on China” Wall Street Pit, Scott Sumner (2/10/10)
Why the U.S. can’t win a trade war with China The Globe and Mail (Canada), Carl Mortished (4/10/10)
China-Japan trade war looms CTV News (Canada), Mark MacKinnon (23/9/10)
IMF chief’s warning of currency war ‘real threat’ BBC News, interview with Dominique Strauss-Khan, head of the IMF (7/10/10)
Could disputes over currency levels lead to a depression? BBC World Service, interview with Robert Zoellick (8/10/10)
China stands firm over yuan move BBC News, Andrew Walker (9/10/10)
What to do about China’s currency? Washington Post (10/10/10)
How to stop a currency war The Economist (14/10/10)
What’s the currency war about? BBC News, Laurence Knight (23/10/10)
Nominally cheap or really dear? The Economist (4/11/10)
- Why are competitive devaluations globally a zero sum game while global trade wars are a negative sum game?
- What are the arguments for and against using tariffs as a means of stimulating recovery?
- Why has quantitative easing so far had a more discernible effect on asset prices than on the real economy?
- Do a search on “Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act” of 1930 and describe its impact on the global economy in the 1930s. Are there any parallels today?
- How is it possible for massive trade surpluses and deficits to persist and yet for individual countries’ exchange rates and overall balance of payments to be in equilibrium?
- Are global trade imbalances widening, and if so why?
- What would determine the size of the effect on the US balance of trade of an appreciation of the yuan?
The link below is to a podcast by Martin Wolf of the Financial Times. It considers a new book, Fault Lines by Raghu Rajan of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Rajan argues that the global economy is severely unbalanced:
There is a fair amount of consensus that the world economy is in need of rebalancing. Countries like Iceland, Greece, Spain, and the United States overspent prior to the crisis, financing the spending with government or private borrowing, while countries like Germany, Japan, and China supplied those countries goods even while financing their spending habits. Simply put, the consensus now requires U.S. households to save more and Chinese households to spend more in order to achieve the necessary rebalancing.
Martin Wolf identifies these imbalances and discusses various possible solutions. The problem is that what may seem sensible economically is not always feasible politically.
Three years and new fault lines threaten Financial Times podcasts, Martin Wolf (13/8/10)
Three years and new fault lines threaten (transcript of podcast) Financial Times podcasts, Martin Wolf (13/8/10)
- What are the fault lines that Martin Wolf identifies?
- Have they become more acute since the credit crunch and subsequent recession?
- What risks do these fault lines pose to the future health of the global economy?
- How do political relationships make integrating the world economy more difficult? What insights does game theory provide for understanding the tensions in these relationships?
- Is a policy of export-led growth a wise one for the UK to pursue?
- Explain why global demand may be structurally deficient.
Keynes referred to the ‘paradox of thrift’ (see, for example, Box 17.5 on page 492 of Sloman and Wride, Economics, 7th edition). The paradox goes something like this: if individuals save more, they will increase their consumption possibilities in the future. If society saves more, however, this may reduce its future income and consumption. Why should this be so? Well, as people in general save more, they will spend less. Firms will thus produce less. What is more, the lower consumption will discourage firms from investing. Thus, through both the multiplier and the accelerator, GDP will fall.
What we have in the paradox of thrift is an example of the ‘fallacy of composition’ (see Sloman and Wride, Box 3.7 on page 84). What applies at the individual level will not necessarily apply at the aggregate level. The paradox of thrift applied in the Great Depression of the 1930s. People cutting back on consumption drove the world economy further into depression.
Turn the clock forward some 80 years. On 26/27 June 2010, leaders of the G20 countries met in Canada to consider, amongst other things, how to protect the global economic recovery while tackling the large public-sector deficits. These deficits have soared as a result of two things: (a) the recession of 2008/9, which reduced tax revenues and resulted in more people claiming benefits, (b) the expansionary fiscal policies adopted to bring countries out of recession.
But the leaders were divided on how much to cut now. Some, such as the new Coalition government in the UK, want to cut the deficit quickly in order to appease markets and avert a Greek-style crisis and a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to service the debt. Others, such as the Obama Administration in the USA, want to cut more slowly so as not to put the recovery in jeopardy. Nevertheless, cuts were generally agreed, although agreement about the timing was more vague.
So where is the fallacy of composition? If one country cuts, then it is possible that increased demand from other countries could drive recovery. If all countries cut, however, the world may go back into recession. What applies to one country, therefore, may not apply to the world as a whole.
Let’s look at this in a bit more detail and consider the individual elements of aggregate demand. If there are to be cuts in government expenditure, then there has to be a corresponding increase in aggregate demand elsewhere, if growth is to be maintained. This could come from increased consumption. But, with higher taxes and many people saving more (or reducing their borrowing) for fear of being made redundant or, at least, of having a cut in their incomes, there seems to be little sign that consumption will be the driver of growth.
Then there is investment. But, fearing a ‘double-dip recession’, business confidence is plummeting (see) and firms are likely to be increasingly reluctant to invest. Indeed, after the G20 summit, stock markets around the world fell. On 29 June, the FTSE 100 fell by 3.10% and the main German and French stock market indices, the Dax and the Cac 40, fell by 3.33% and 4.01% respectively. This was partly because of worries about re-financing the debts of various European countries, but it was partly because of fears about recovery stalling.
The problem is that cuts in government expenditure and rises in taxes directly affect the private sector. If government capital expenditure is cut, this will directly affect the construction industry. Even if the government makes simple efficiency savings, such as reducing the consumption of paper clips or paper, this will directly affect the private stationery industry. If taxes are raised, consumers are likely to buy less. Under these circumstances, no wonder many industries are reluctant to invest.
This leaves net exports (exports minus imports). Countries generally are hoping for a rise in exports as a way of maintaining aggregate demand. But here we have the fallacy of composition in its starkest form. If one country exports more, then this can boost its aggregate demand. But if all countries in total are to export more, this can only be achieved if there is an equivalent increase in global imports: after all, someone has to buy the exports! And again, with growth faltering, the global demand for imports is likely to fall, or at best slow down.
The following articles consider the compatibility of cuts and growth. Is there a ‘paradox of cuts’ equivalent to the paradox of thrift?
Osborne’s first Budget? It’s wrong, wrong, wrong! Independent on Sunday, Joseph Stiglitz (27/6/10)
Strategy: Focus switches from exit to growth Financial Times, Chris Giles (25/6/10)
Once again we must ask: ‘Who governs?’ Financial Times, Robert Skidelsky (16/6/10)
Europe’s next top bailout… MoneyWeb, Guy Monson and Subitha Subramaniam (9/6/10)
Hawks hovering over G20 summit Financial Times (25/6/10)
G20 applauds fiscal austerity but allows for national discretion Independent, Andrew Grice and David Usborne (28/6/10)
To stimulate or not to stimulate? That is the question Independent, Stephen King (28/6/10)
Now even the US catches the deficit reduction habit Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (28/6/10)
George Osborne claims G20 success Guardian, Larry Elliott and Patrick Wintour (28/6/10)
G20 accord: you go your way, I’ll go mine Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/6/10)
G20 summit agrees on deficit cuts by 2013 BBC News (28/6/10)
IMF says G20 could do better BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (27/6/10)
Are G20 summits worth having? What should the G20’s top priority be? (Economics by invitation): see in particular The G20 is heading for a “public sector paradox of thrift”, John Makin The Economist (25/6/10)
Why it is right for central banks to keep printing Financial Times, Martin Wolf (22/6/10)
In graphics: Eurozone in crisis: Recovery Measures BBC News (24/6/10)
A prophet in his own house The Economist (1/7/10)
The long and the short of fiscal policy Financial Times, Clive Crook (4/7/10)
The G20 Toronto Summit Declaration (27/6/10) (see particularly paragraph 10)
- Consider the arguments that economic growth and cutting deficits are (a) complementary aims (b) contradictory aims.
- Is there necessarily a ‘paradox of cuts’? Explain.
- How is game theory relevant in explaining the outcome of international negotiations, such as those at the G20 summit?
- Would it be wise for further quantitative easing to accompany fiscal tightening?
- What is the best way for governments to avoid a ‘double-dip recession’?
In 2003, the Office of Fair Trading launched an investigation into possible collusion between tobacco manufacturers and retailers to fix prices. The investigation sought to establish whether the firms had breached the Chapter I prohibition of the Competition Act 1998. Chapter I is concerned with Restrictive Practices.
The allegation was that two tobacco manufacturers, Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher, had colluded with 11 retailers to fix the retail prices and thereby reduce competition. The details of the allegations are given in a 2008 press release.
As a result of its investigations, the OFT has decided to impose fines of £225m. “The OFT has concluded that each manufacturer had a series of individual arrangements with each retailer whereby the retail price of a tobacco brand was linked to that of a competing manufacturer’s brand. These arrangements restricted the ability of these retailers to determine their selling prices independently and breached the Competition Act 1998.” As the Times Online article states:
The OFT said that the companies were guilty of “price-linking” or “price matching”. It said that Imps and Gallaher had come to an arrangement with each retailer that if one or other manufacturer increased or decreased prices the retailer would alter the price of the competitor brand in line, up or down accordingly – a practice known in competition law circles as “vertical price collusion”.
‘Unlawful’ tobacco pricing leads to £225m fine by OFT BBC News (16/4/10)
OFT levies £225m fine for cigarette price fixing Guardian, Richard Wray (17/4/10)
Tobacco giants face £225m fine for price-fixing Independent, Alistair Dawber
OFT case will send smoke signals Financial Times, Michael Peel, Elizabeth Rigby and Pan Kwan Yuk (16/4/10)
Imperial and Morrison set to appeal OFT fine Financial Times, Michael Peel, Pan Kwan Yuk and Elizabeth Rigby (16/4/10)
OFT faces challenge to £225m price-fixing ruling Times Online, Robert Lea (17/4/10)
OFT gets tough on tobacco as price-fixing net is cast wider Independent, Nick Clark (26/4/08)
OFT Press Release
OFT imposes £225m fine against certain tobacco manufacturers and retailers over retail pricing practices OFT Press Release (16/4/10)
- What are the allegations against the tobacco manufacturers and retailers?
- Why has the OFT judged that such behaviour is in breach of the 1988 Competition Act, and hence against the public interest?
- What are the arguments put by the tobacco companies and retailers in their defence?
- Is giving companies an amnesty if they alert the OFT an example of a prisoners’ dilemma game? What credible threats or promises may the companies have in such a situation?