Let’s Level the Playing Field between the Dollar and Competing Currencies

Written by Michael Milano

To be a reliable and useful medium of exchange, money must be durable, portable, divisible, and recognizable, but also scarce. The privileged power of the state to manipulate the scarcity of money has had disastrous consequences for national currency systems throughout history. While money, like everything else, is subject to the subjective valuations of consumers—as noted by Mises—money’s exchange value is “the most important kind of value, because it governs the social and not merely the individual aspect of economic life.” Legal tender laws and other regulations imposed on currencies cause value discrepancies to arise.

Indeed, when states intervene to impose “official value” on money, true market preferences can be partly observed in the workings of Gresham’s law. Gresham’s law is conventionally described as “bad” money drives out “good” money, but a more accurate definition per Rothbard is that “money overvalued artificially by government will drive out of circulation artificially undervalued money.” Imagine a specie-based economy that issues a coin containing one ounce of gold. Facing mounting debts, the government substitutes copper for a more valuable metal in the minting process while maintaining the coin’s denominational value. According to Gresham’s law, once citizens recognize the inconsistencies in the precious metal content, they’ll opt to spend their artificially “overvalued” newer coins while hoarding their artificially “undervalued” older coins.

Whereas “overvalued” money was created in the past by physical debasement, “overvalued” money today is the result of reckless monetary and fiscal policy. Over the course of the pandemic, the money supply, M2 according to the Federal Reserve, increased 29.7 percent, from $15.405 trillion in February 2020 to $19.979 trillion in March 2021. Since the advent of the Federal Reserve, the purchasing power of the dollar has dropped by over 96 percent (i.e., $1 today is the equivalent of $26.14 in 1913). Unbridled quantitative easing has further amplified inflation worries and global doubts about the stability of the dollar.

Legal tender laws in the United States require the public to accept payment for debts and taxes at the dollar denomination shown on the bill. This form of coercive price control has established the dollar as the economy’s unit of account. Similarly, burdensome tax regulations bolster the “overvalued” dollar by constructing barriers of use for its rivals.

The Case of Cryptocurrency

We can see the effects of these regulations at work today in how cryptocurrency is used.

According to the IRS, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are considered property for taxation purposes. Thus, the act of buying goods and services with BTC is identified as a realization event that requires the purchaser to declare any gains recognized from their BTC cost basis. Disregarding scalability concerns, onerous requirements that force users to track gains and losses for all transactions ultimately prevents BTC from serving as an effective medium of exchange.

On the other hand, if there is real market demand for various cryptos, government regulations designed to discourage the use of anything other than the “official” money will cause the demanded “unofficial” monies to become “undervalued” currency.

Thus, in accordance with Gresham’s law, the in-demand cryptos would be hoarded, rather than circulated at large. In the bitcoin community, for example, this mentality is personified by the Hodl meme encouraging bitcoin users to simply hold, rather than spend, bitcoin. A feedback loop has been generated where greater levels of fiat inflation have led to wealth flooding into BTC, further strengthening the perception that BTC is a reliable store of value. This mentality has been embraced of late by numerous corporations, who have transferred portions of their cash reserves into BTC (e.g., Tesla, MicroStrategy, Square, and MassMutual).

Thanks to so many government restrictions on the use of potential monies that aren’t the dollar, we can only guess as to what the relationship between dollars and bitcoin would be in a functioning marketplace. To find out, it would be best to level the playing field by eliminating legal tender laws and onerous taxation requirements. This would allow individuals to actively assess true differences in purchasing power.

This is unlikely, however, because elected officials depend so much on inflating the supply of dollars for political gain. Whether Democrat or Republican, politicians within our current system overwhelmingly perpetuate the welfare-warfare state—and this would be much more difficult with market-based money not subject to easy inflation by central banks.

Perversely incentivized, these politicians promote expansionary monetary policies that benefit special interest groups while pandering to their electoral base. As noted by Hayek, “[W]ith the exception only of the 200-year period of the gold standard, practically all governments of history have used their exclusive power to issue money in order to defraud and plunder the people.” Depriving the state of this exclusive power would force accountability first and foremost. If the threat of violence and imprisonment were stripped away, the public could freely evaluate the quality of different currencies and act accordingly.

The US Dollar Collapse Is Greatly Exaggerated

The US Dollar Index has lost 10 percent from its March highs and many press comments have started to speculate about the likely collapse of the US dollar as world reserve currency due to this weakness.

These wild speculations need to be debunked.

The US dollar year-to-date (August 2020) has strengthened relative to 96 out of 146 currencies in the Bloomberg universe. In fact, the US Fed Trade-Weighted Broad Dollar Index has strengthened by 2.3 percent in the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The speculation about countries abandoning the US dollar as the reserve currency is easily denied. The Bank of International Settlements reports in its June 2020 report that global dollar-denominated debt is at a decade high. In fact, dollar-denominated debt issuances year-to-date from emerging markets have reached a new record.

China’s dollar-denominated debt has risen as well in 2020. Since 2015, it has increased 35 percent while foreign exchange reserves fell 10 percent.

The US Dollar Index (DXY) shows that the United States currency has only really weakened relative to the yen and the euro, and this is based on optimistic expectations of European and Japanese economic recovery. The Federal Reserve’s dovish announcements may be seen as a cause of the dollar decline, but the evidence shows that the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) conduct much more aggressive policies than the US while economic recovery stalls. Recent purchasing manager index (PMI) declines have shown that hopes of a rapid recovery in Europe and Japan are widely exaggerated, and the Daily Activity Index published by Bloomberg confirms it. Furthermore, at the end of August, the balance sheet of the ECB stood at more than 54 percent of the eurozone GDP and the BOJ’s at 123 percent versus the Federal Reserve’s 33 percent.

What we have witnessed between March and August has just been a move back from an overbought exposure to the DXY index due to the severity of the crisis, with investors increasing positions in safe havens in February and March, only to reverse as markets and the economy recovered.

The lesson most governments should learn is that economies do not become more competitive or deliver stronger growth and exports with a weak currency. Emerging markets have shown in the past years how a weak currency does not help, and the eurozone has had a weak euro versus the US dollar for years just as its economy delivered disappointing growth.

The reason why the US dollar’s world reserve currency status is not at risk is simple: there are no contenders. The euro has redenomination risk, and the constant political and economic concerns about the union’s solvency weaken the currency, as historical performance has shown. It tends to strengthen relative to the US dollar when investors place unjustified hopes on the eurozone growth only to weaken afterward, when poor growth adds to an overly aggressive ECB policy, with negative rates and massive money supply growth. The yuan cannot become a world reserve currency if the country maintains capital controls and concerns about legal and investor security remain. The Chinese central bank (PBOC) is also extremely aggressive for a currency that is only used in 4 percent of global transactions according to the Bank of International Settlements.

We are living a period of unprecedented financial repression and monetary expansion. The US Dollar reserve status grows in these periods where countries ignore real demand for their domestic currency and decide to copy the Federal Reserve policies without understanding the global demand for their currency. When the tide turns, most central banks find themselves with poor reserves and lower demand for domestic currency risk, and the position of the US dollar as reserve currency strengthens.

This is not a year of US Dollar weakness or the end of its supremacy as reserve currency, what we are witnessing is a generalized fiat currency debasement through extreme monetary policy. That is the reason why gold and silver continue to rise despite hopes of an economic recovery that seems to be stalling. The US Dollar will likely remain the most demanded fiat currency, but the excessive monetary stimulus will ultimately damage the confidence in most fiat currencies.

Daniel Lacalle

Daniel Lacalle, PhD, economist and fund manager, is the author of the bestselling books Freedom or Equality (2020), Escape from the Central Bank Trap (2017), The Energy World Is Flat (2015), and Life in the Financial Markets (2014).

He is a professor of global economy at IE Business School in Madrid.

The Federal Reserve’s Growing Balance Sheet and You

The Graph featured here shows the break out of the various debt holdings on the Fed’s balance sheet, over a specific time interval of 2004 to the present. It clearly shows a growing trend of the accumulation of assets. How did it grow so quickly during this time period? The Fed buys up the assets from the banks, as the banks receive cash from the Fed. Note: The third party dealers broker the transaction.

This has been the primary tactic for the various Quantitative Easing(QE) programs since the market correction of 2008. The balance sheet gives some indication of how much money was been introduced into the money supply, and just imagine how the fractional reserve factor has impacted the actual balance of loanable funds for the banks.

Inflation…inflation and inflation. $4.5 trillion and rising.

Who Are the Current Main Players in the Federal Funds Market?

When the Federal Reserve conducts monetary policy, it announces a target for the “federal funds” interest rate. The implication is that if this specific rate rises or falls, it will affect other interest rates throughout the US economy; for example, like federal funds interest rate moves closely together with other key benchmark interest rates, like  the interest rate for overnight borrowing on AA-rated commercial paper. However, the identity of the parties borrowing and lending in the “federal funds” market has changed dramatically since the Great Recession. 

Read more here: http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2020/01/who-are-current-main-players-in-federal.html