Bernanke: The Dollar System Is Flawed

November 30, 2010  •  From
Desperate times call for desperate measures, says the Fed chairman. But what will be the unintended consequences?

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech in Frankfurt may be one of the most important and underreported events since America abandoned the gold standard. In it, he said the dollar standard was flawed and that America’s trade deficit was imperiling America.

“[I]t would be desirable for the global community, over time, to devise [a new] international monetary system,” he said.

Never before has a Fed chairman made such an admission. Never before has one ever disparaged his own currency in such a way.

The speech was a radical departure from the status quo and a major signal for a looming policy change. It means that trade war is virtually guaranteed and the dollar will soon be devalued. Dramatic global economic upheaval is on the way.

On November 19, Ben Bernanke told a room full of bankers in Frankfurt, Germany, that the world’s sense of common purpose had waned. Tensions among nations over economic policies are intensifying, he said. It threatens the world’s ability to find a solution.

U.S. unemployment rates are high, he told the gathering, and given the slow pace of economic growth, likely to remain so. Approximately 8.5 million jobs have been lost so far, and when you take into account population growth, the size of the employment gap is even larger, he said.

Unemployment may get even worse before it gets better.

“In sum, on its current economic trajectory the United Sates runs the risk of seeing millions of workers unemployed or underemployed for many years,” lamented Bernanke. “As a society, we should find that outcome unacceptable.”

In an effort to win European allies, America’s most powerful banker then went on the attack—blaming China for causing much of the economic and trade imbalances destabilizing the current dollar-centric economic order and threatening the world’s economy.

China is manipulating the market to keep its currency undervalued, he charged. This has led to imbalances.

Each month China sells tens of billions of dollars more worth of goods and services to America than it purchases in return. Many American economists claim this is because of China’s undervalued currency, which makes Chinese goods less expensive in America and American goods more expensive in China.

Coupled with China’s low-wage, low-taxation, low-regulatory, non-union environment, resulting in the relocation of millions of American jobs overseas, China has received a huge economic boost at America’s expense.

This is a primary reason nations like China have fully recovered from the recession while America is still mired in it, noted Bernanke. America can no longer afford to let China drain the U.S. economy.

But what to do about it?

“As currently constituted, the international monetary system has a structural flaw,” said America’s chief banker. The dollar system is broken. “It lacks a mechanism, market based or otherwise, to induce needed adjustments by surplus countries, which can result in persistent imbalances” (emphasis mine throughout).

“In the meantime, without such a system in place, the countries of the world must recognize their collective responsibility for bringing about the rebalancing required to preserve global economic stability and prosperity.”

Thus Bernanke told his German audience to prepare for “market-based or otherwise” unorthodox—even radical—action by the Fed to try and force China to revalue its currency and rebalance the global economy.

The “flaw” has been declared. But what is Bernanke going to do?

“Bernanke is alerting the world to the most important shift in U.S. trade policy in more than a generation,” writes economic analyst and author Richard Duncan. “The world has been put on notice that the United States will take steps to correct this defect and the destabilizing trade imbalances it permits.”

“If the flaw cannot be corrected through international coordination, then unilateral actions by the United Sates should be anticipated,” Duncan warns.

And if history is a guide, that means tariffs and trade duties.

The first major shots of trade war may be about to be fired—and the Fed has just given its blessing. If you look back on the 1930s and that disastrous time period, protectionism is lethally contagious and predictable. Global trade and commerce will contract. Import prices will rise. Unemployment will skyrocket. And that is just for starters.

During the Great Depression, America was not burdened under record debt. The economy entered that age of trade warfare from a position of strength, and still the economy got ruthlessly battered.

A trade-war-induced depression today would potentially be far worse—and not just because the United States has become the greatest debtor nation in all history, but because this time, the credibility of America’s government, its central bank and its currency, are all now in question.

Besides tariffs, Mr. Bernanke’s declaration that the international monetary system is broken also means the Fed will engage in as much “quantitative easing” as necessary to compensate for what he sees as its “structural flaws.”

During the G-20 meeting in South Korea two weeks ago, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner were forced to defend the Federal Reserve’s decision to print dollars to finance government spending and depreciate the value of the dollar.

Foreign nations saw it as a way for America to renege on its debts.

Bernanke’s Frankfurt defense of the Fed’s “quantitative easing” will do little to reverse that sentiment. “Fully aware of the important role that the dollar plays in the international monetary and financial system, the [Fed] believes that the best way to continue to deliver the strong economic fundamentals that underpin the value of the dollar, as well as to support the global recovery, is through policies that lead to a resumption of robust growth in the context of price stability in the United States,” Bernanke said.

In order for America to support the value of the dollar, it will devalue it, said Bernanke. The incongruity is palpable—and surely wasn’t lost on America’s bond holders. Every time the Federal Reserve hits the “print” button, creating money out of thin air, it devalues the dollars in existence. America’s lenders (of which the Chinese are the largest) have been put on notice that they will be paid back in depreciated dollars.

Be prepared for more quantitative easing—or, as it has become known overseas, quantitative fleecing.

And be prepared for the Federal Reserve’s antics to succeed all too well.

Foreign nations, and America’s foreign creditors, grow more dissatisfied with the dollar as the world’s reserve currency every day. The move to adopt a new reserve currency system is gaining momentum. When this happens, the Federal Reserve will get a whole lot more international cooperation in meeting its goals than it could have ever wanted.

The Fed won’t be trying to devalue the dollar anymore—it will be doing everything it can to prop it up.

Unfortunately, with faith in the dollar broken, the government unable to borrow money and a global trade war ravaging the U.S. economy, America will pine for the structurally “flawed” but comparatively good old days.

For information on how to prosper, even amid trade war and depression, read “How You Can Prosper in a Recession!” and “Finding Joy During a Recession.” Apply the principles in these two articles and you will go on to live a happy, fulfilling, meaningful, hope-filled life—guaranteed. In an age of seeming uncertainty and upheaval, that’s the best investment you could ever make.