With the United States celebrating Independence Day, oil still trading over $100 a barrel, and continued uncertainty in the Middle-East, today King World News interviewed the director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Dr. Benn Steil warned KWN about the Fed’s exit strategy, and also spoke about China’s large hoard of U.S. dollars, and their massive accumulation of gold.
Eric King: “What we are looking at right now is a financial war between the U.S. and China.”
Dr. Steil: “That’s right. In the 1940s the U.S. was the world’s largest international creditor, and Britain was the world’s largest international debtor. Today, China is the world’s largest international creditor, and of course the United States is the world’s largest international debtor.
And it’s fascinating to see that the United States today takes the same position in terms of identifying the flaws in the global monetary architecture that Keynes and the British took in the 1940s. For example, former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in 2010, proposed imposing caps on persistent current account surpluses. Of course that was aimed at disciplining Chinese economic behavior….
“This was exactly the sort of position that Britain was taking in the 1940s, Harry Dexter White and the FDR administration condemned. So where you stand depends on where you sit at the time.”
Eric King: “This is also a quote (from Dr. Steil) ‘At present, the United States has no need to accommodate calls for it to sacrifice its exorbitant privilege (having the world’s reserve currency) to some vague vision of the global good. It will only waver when the market initiates a clear shift toward alternatives.” What about that (Dr. Steil)?”
Dr. Steil: “Well, in the 1940s there was a deal to be done between the United States and Britain. It was a harsh deal, and it was an imbalanced deal as I explained, but nonetheless it was a deal to be done. Britain needed financing to get through the war, and the Americans needed British acquiescence to make the dollar the global unit of account.
But the situation with China today is not the same, and let me give you just one little anecdote to illustrate this: In 1956, the Eisenhower administration forced the British out of (the) Suez (Canal) by threatening to withhold emergency IMF support.
Now, the United States, at the time, could afford to provoke a sterling crisis at no cost to itself because in 1956 U.S. holdings of British securities amounted to only one dollar per U.S. resident. Now, compare that to today, where Chinese holdings of U.S. securities amount to over (a remarkable) $1,000 per Chinese resident.
So China cannot afford to provoke a dollar crisis today because it would be hurting itself at least as much as it would be hurting the United States. And that’s why there is really not, in my view, a deal to be done right now between the United States and China to remake the global international architecture … As you quoted, China has a vast stash of dollar-denominated assets, and it doesn’t want to do anything that would undermine the global purchasing power of this hoard. So they are in quite a bind.”