by David P. Goldman
(Crossposted from blog.atimes.net)
The World Bank president got it exactly right:
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) –- The president of the World Bank said in a newspaper editorial Monday that the Group of 20 leading economies should consider adopting a global reserve currency based on gold as part of structural reforms to the world’s foreign-exchange regime.
World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said in an article the Financial Times that leading economies should consider “employing gold as an international reference point of market expectations about inflation, deflation and future currency values.”
Zoellick made the proposal as part of reforms to be considered at this week’s G-20 meeting in Seoul.
“Although textbooks may view gold as the old money, markets are using gold as an alternative monetary asset today,” said Zoellick.
He said such a reform would reflect economic realities and should be considered as a successor to the existing global currency paradigm known as “Bretton Woods II.” Bretton Woods II refers to the system which began in 1971, when U.S. President Nixon ended the dollar’s link to gold as established under the Bretton Woods agreement.
Zoellick said a return to some sort of currency link to gold would be “practical and feasible, not radical.”
“This new system is likely to need to involve the dollar, the euro, the yen, the pound and a renminbi that moves towards internationalization and then an open capital account,” he said.
When the G7 experimented with economic co-ordination in the 1980s, the Plaza and Louvre Accords focused attention on exchange rates. Yet the policy underpinnings ran deeper. The Reagan administration, guided by James Baker, the then Treasury secretary, wanted to resist a protectionist upsurge from Congress, like the one we see today. It therefore combined currency co-ordination with the launch of the Uruguay Round that created the World Trade Organisation and a push for free trade that led to agreements with Canada and Mexico. International leadership worked with domestic policies to boost competitiveness.As part of this “package approach”, G7 countries were supposed to address the fundamentals of growth – today’s structural reform agenda. For example, the 1986 Tax Reform Act broadened the revenue base while slashing marginal income tax rates. Mr Baker worked with his G7 colleagues and central bankers to orchestrate international co-operation to build private-sector confidence.
What might such an approach look like today? First, to focus on fundamentals, a key group of G20 countries should agree on parallel agendas of structural reforms, not just to rebalance demand but to spur growth. For example, China’s next five-year plan is supposed to transfer attention from export industries to new domestic businesses, and the service sector, provide more social services and shift financing from oligopolistic state-owned enterprises to ventures that will boost productivity and domestic demand.
With a new Congress, the US will need to address structural spending and ballooning debt that will tax future growth. President Barack Obama has also spoken of plans to boost competitiveness and revive free-trade agreements.
The US and China could agree on specific, mutually reinforcing steps to boost growth. Based on this, the two might also agree on a course for renminbi appreciation, or a move to wide bands for exchange rates. The US, in turn, could commit to resist tit-for-tat trade actions; or better, to advance agreements to open markets.
Second, other major economies, starting with the G7, should agree to forego currency intervention, except in rare circumstances agreed to by others. Other G7 countries may wish to boost confidence by committing to structural growth plans as well.
Third, these steps would assist emerging economies to adjust to asymmetries in recoveries by relying on flexible exchange rates and independent monetary policies. Some may need tools to cope with short-term hot money flows. The G20 could develop norms to guide these measures.
Fourth, the G20 should support growth by focusing on supply-side bottlenecks in developing countries. These economies are already contributing to half of global growth, and their import demand is rising twice as fast as that of advanced economies. The G20 should give special support to infrastructure, agriculture and developing healthy, skilled labour forces. The World Bank Group and the regional development banks could be the instruments of building multiple poles of future growth based on private sector development.
Fifth, the G20 should complement this growth recovery programme with a plan to build a co-operative monetary system that reflects emerging economic conditions. This new system is likely to need to involve the dollar, the euro, the yen, the pound and a renminbi that moves towards internationalisation and then an open capital account.