For U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, a weaker dollar may now be in the national interest. The dollar has dropped more than 7 percent since Aug. 27, when Chairman Ben S. Bernanke signaled the Federal Reserve is prepared to ease monetary policy. Where once such a decline may have been met with resistance from the U.S., Geithner may now be tolerating it as a way of bolstering the recovery.
Higher stock prices in turn are bolstering consumer and business confidence. The danger is that the decline gets out of hand, fueling increases in the cost of living over the long term and prompting investors to avoid U.S debt. As the dollar falls relative to foreign currencies, everything we export becomes less expensive to foreign consumers. So they buy more of our stuff, creating more jobs in the U.S. At the same time, everything they make costs us more. So we buy less from them and more from each other. Again, more jobs here at home.
Washington is actively pursuing a weak dollar as a jobs policy. (The dollar just plunged to a six-month low against the euro.) How? The Fed is keeping long-term interest rates so low global investors are heading elsewhere for high returns, which bids the dollar down. Every time another Fed official hints the Fed will start printing even more money (“quantitative easing” in Fed speak) the dollar takes another dive.
Meanwhile, Congress is ginning up legislation to allow the President to slap tariffs on Chinese imports because China is “artificially” keeping its currency low relative to the dollar. But using a weak dollar to create American jobs is foolish, for two reasons. First, no other country wants to lose jobs because its currency becomes too high relative to the dollar. So a weak dollar policy invites currency wars. Everyone loses.
At least a half dozen other countries are now actively pushing down the value of their currencies. Japan recently sold some $20 billion of yen in order to keep the yen down, the biggest ever sell-off in single day. Brazil’s high interest rates are attracting global investors and pushing up the value of Brazil’s currency. This is crippling Brazil’s exports and fueling unemployment. Here’s the other problem. Even if we succeed, a weak dollar makes us poorer. Imports are around 18 percent of the US economy, so a dropping dollar is exactly like an extra tax on 18 percent of what we buy.
It’s no big accomplishment to create jobs by getting poorer.