CHINA'S DOLLAR MILLSTONE, Part 1
Breaking free from dollar hegemony
By Henry C K Liu
The vast expansion of US-led globalized trade since the Cold War ended in 1991 had been fueled by unsustainable serial debt bubbles built on dollar hegemony, which came into existence on a global scale with the emergence of deregulated global financial markets that made cross-border flow of funds routine since the 1990s.
Dollar hegemony is a geopolitically constructed peculiarity through which critical commodities, the most notable being oil, are denominated in fiat dollars, not backed by gold or other species since then president Richard Nixon took the US dollar off gold in 1971. The recycling of petro-dollars into other dollar assets is the price the US has extracted from oil-producing countries for US tolerance of the oil-exporting cartel since 1973. After that, everyone accepts dollars because dollars can buy oil, and every economy needs oil. Dollar hegemony separates the trade value of every currency from direct connection to the productivity of the issuing economy to link it directly to the size of dollar reserves held by the issuing central bank. Dollar hegemony enables the US to own indirectly but essentially the entire global economy by requiring its wealth to be denominated in fiat dollars that the US can print at will with little in the way of monetary penalties.
World trade is now a game in which the US produces fiat dollars of uncertain exchange value and zero intrinsic value, and the rest of the world produces goods and services that fiat dollars can buy at "market prices" quoted in dollars. Such market prices are no longer based on mark-ups over production costs set by socio-economic conditions in the producing countries. They are kept artificially low to compensate for the effect of overcapacity in the global economy created by a combination of overinvestment and weak demand due to low wages in every economy.
Such low market prices in turn push further down already low wages to further cut cost in an unending race to the bottom. The higher the production volume above market demand, the lower the unit market price of a product must go in order to increase sales volume to keep revenue from falling. Lower market prices require lower production costs which in turn push wages lower. Lower wages in turn further reduce demand.
To prevent loss of revenue from falling prices, producers must produce at still higher volume, thus further lowering market prices and wages in a downward spiral. Export economies are forced to compete for market share in the global market by lowering both domestic wages and the exchange rate of their currencies. Lower exchange rates push up the market price of commodities which must be compensated for by even lower wages. The adverse effects of dollar hegemony on wages apply not only to the emerging export economies but also to the importing US economy. Workers all over the world are oppressed victims of dollar hegemony, which turns the labor theory of value up-side-down.
In a global market operating under dollar hegemony, the world's interlinked economies no longer trade to capture Ricardian comparative advantage. The theory of comparative advantage as espoused by British economist David Ricardo (1772-1823) asserts that trade can benefit all participating nations, even those that command no absolute advantage, because such nations can still benefit from specializing in producing products with the lowest opportunity cost, which is measured by how much production of another good needs to be reduced to increase production by one additional unit of that good.
This theory reflected British national opinion at the 19th century when free trade benefited Britain more than its trade partners. However, in today's globalized trade when factors of production such as capital, credit, technology, management, information, branding, distribution and sales are mobile across national borders and can generate profit much greater than manufacturing, the theory of comparative advantage has a hard time holding up against measurable data.
Under dollar hegemony, exporting nations compete in the global market to capture needed dollars to service dollar-denominated foreign capital and debt, to pay for imported energy, raw material and capital goods, to pay intellectual property fees and information technology fees. Moreover, their central banks must accumulate dollar reserves to ward off speculative attacks on the value of their currencies in world currency markets. The higher the market pressure to devalue a particular currency, the more dollar reserves its central bank must hold. Only the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, is exempt from this pressure to accumulate dollars because it can issue theoretically unlimited additional dollars at will with monetary immunity. The dollar is merely a Federal Reserve note, no more, no less.
Dollar hegemony has created a built-in support for a strong dollar that in turn forces the world's other central banks to acquire and hold more dollar reserves, making the dollar stronger, fueling a massive global debt bubble denominated in dollars as the US becomes the world's largest debtor nation. Yet a strong dollar, while viewed by US authorities as in the US national interest, in reality drives the defacement of all fiat currencies that operate as derivative currencies of the dollar, in turn driving the current commodity-led inflation. When the dollar falls against the euro, it does not mean the euro is rising in purchasing power. It only means the dollar is losing purchasing power faster than the euro. A strong dollar does not always mean high dollar exchange rates. It means only that the dollars will stay firmly anchored as the prime reserve currency for international trade even as it falls in exchange value against other trading currencies.
In recent decades, central banks of all governments, led by the US Federal Reserve during Alan Greenspan's watch, had bought economic growth with loose money to feed debt bubbles and to contain inflation with "structural unemployment", which has been defined as up to 6% of the workforce, to keep the labor market from being inflationary. Central banking has mutated from being an institution to safeguard the value of money so as to ensure wages from full employment do not lose purchasing power into one with a perverted mandate to promote and preserve dollar hegemony by releasing debt bubbles denominated in fiat dollars. (See Critique of Central Banking, Asia Times Online, November 6, 2002.)
Despite all the talk about globalization as an irresistible trend of progress, the priority for the United States in the final analysis has been to advance its superpower economic objectives, not its obligations as the center of the global monetary system. This superpower economic objective includes the global expansion of US economic dominance through dollar hegemony, reducing all domestic economies, including that of the US, to be merely local units of a global empire. Thus when the US asserts that a healthy and strong economy in Europe, Japan and even Russia and China, all former enemies, is part of the Pax Americana, it is essentially declaring a neocolonial claim on these economies.
The concept of "stakeholder" in the global geopolitical-economic order advanced by Robert B Zoellick, former US deputy secretary of state and now president of the World Bank, is a solicitation from the US to emerging economic powerhouses to support this Pax Americana. The device for accomplishing this neo-imperialism is a coordinated monetary policy managed by a global system of central banking, first adopted in the US in 1913 to allow a financial elite to gain monetary control of the US national economy, and after the Cold War, to allow the US as the sole remaining superpower controlled by a financial oligarchy to gain monetary control of the entire global economy.
With the help of supranational institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of International Settlements, the US aims to negate national economic sovereignty with globalization of unregulated trade conducted under dollar hegemony. Unregulated trade globalization in the 21st century aims to neutralize national economic sovereignty to preempt national development financed by sovereign credit. Trade through export has become the sole operative path for national economic growth in a political world order of sovereign nation states that has existed since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. No national domestic economy can henceforth prosper without first adding to the prosperity of US-controlled global economy denominated in dollars.
Holy Dollar Empire
Echoing the Holy Roman Empire, the global economy has been operating as a global Holy Dollar Empire with the Federal Reserve as the Holy Dollar Emperor. Similar to the Holy Roman Empire, which disintegrated from the rise of Lutheran nationalism, this Holy Dollar Empire will eventually disintegrate from progressive centrifugal forces of a new populist economic nationalism. This new nationalism is not to be confused with regressive trade protectionism. The formation of the new Group of Five (G5 - China, Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa) in the 2008 Group of Eight Summit in Tokyo (G8 - the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and the European Union) is a sign of this new trend of progressive economic nationalism. The 2008 US presidential election may herald in a new populism in US history to reform the structure of US debt capitalism.
In his speech to the G5 leaders, China's President Hu Jintao said: "It is necessary to take into full account the issue of food security in tackling the challenges in energy, climate change and other fields." Apart from calling for the setting up of an UN-led international co-operation mechanism and a global food-security safeguard system, Hu said all countries should strengthen cooperation in grain reserves, a process of proven success in China but not recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which views such scheme as a distortion of trade.
Liberation from this Holy Dollar Empire of dollar hegemony can only come from sovereign nations withdrawing from the global central banking regime to return to a national banking regime within a world order of sovereign nation states to put monetary policy back in its proper role of supporting national development goals, rather than sacrificing national development to support global dollar hegemony through wage-suppressing export-led growth.