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Posts Tagged ‘Dollarization’

I’m not a fan of the European Union, which has morphed from something good (a free-trade pact) to something bad (a pro-centralization,wannabe United States of Europe that exacerbates the continent’s tax-and-spend mentality).

Indeed, that’s why I’m a huge fan of Brexit. The United Kingdom is wise to escape the sinking ship.

But notwithstanding all my critiques of the E.U., I’ve never blamed or condemned the euro currency.

Why? Because many of the nations that joined that common currency did a lousy job when they had national currencies. Italy and Greece, for instance, routinely used their central banks as printing presses to help finance bloated budgets.

And that inflation exacerbated all the other economic problems that existed.

The bottom line is that many nations would benefit if they took monetary policy away from their politicians and instead adopted the currency of a nation with a better track record.

That happened in Europe when the euro was adopted since it means – for all intents and purposes – that Mediterranean nations use a currency that is controlled by Germany.

This lesson should be applied elsewhere in the world, which is why “dollarization” can be a good idea.

Professor Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University wrote a good description of this concept for National Review.

Before the rise in central banking (monetary nationalism), the world was dominated by unified currency areas, or blocs, the largest of which was the sterling bloc. As early as 1937, the great Austrian economist and Nobel winner Friedrich von Hayek warned that the central banking fad, if it continued, would lead to currency chaos and the spread of banking crises. …Indeed, for most emerging‐​market countries with central banks, hot money flows are frequent and so are exchange‐​rate and domestic banking crises. What to do? The obvious answer is for vulnerable emerging‐​market countries to do away with their central banks and domestic currencies, replacing them with a sound foreign currency.  Today, 32 countries are “dollarized” and rely on a foreign currency as legal tender. …Panama, which was dollarized in 1903, illustrates the important features of a dollarized economy. …The results of Panama’s dollarized money system and internationally integrated banking system have been excellent when compared with other emerging-market countries… Emerging-market countries should follow Panama’s lead and “dollarize.” Most central banks in emerging countries produce junk currencies, banking crises, instability, and economic misery. These central banks should have been mothballed and put in museums long ago.

And there are many nations that would benefit if they used the U.S. dollar.

Back in 2018, Mary Anastasia O’Grady opined in the Wall Street Journal that Argentina should dollarize.

Another currency crisis is roiling Argentina… The question that seems to be on everyone’s lips: Why is this happening again… The answer: Because Argentina still has a central bank. To fix the problem once and for all, it should dollarize. …an IMF package can’t cure what ails the peso. This is a long-term political problem that has manifested itself in repeated economic crises since the mid-20th century. The government lives beyond its means while taxes and regulations, particularly on labor, make many businesses uncompetitive. The net effect is always the same: ballooning debt and a lethargic economy followed by devaluation or default or both. …The fastest way to restore confidence would be to put an end to the misery caused by the peso and to adopt the dollar. Argentines could then get on with the business of saving and investing in their beautiful country.

The Wall Street Journal has editorialized in favor of dollarization in Argentina.

Dollarizers face resistance from the Peronist party, which relies on the inflation tax to fund its populism when revenues run low. Yet demand for dollars suggests…popular backing for adopting the greenback as the national currency. …Panama has used the dollar as legal tender since 1904, and El Salvador and Ecuador dollarized in 2000. Ecuador did it to resolve a banking crisis and El Salvador did it to bring down interest rates. El Salvador and Panama now have the lowest domestic borrowing rates in Latin America and the longest maturities. Ecuador has price stability not seen in at least a half century.

Here’s the real shocker. As reported by Reuters, Venezuela is on the verge of dollarizing.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro embraced the currency of his bitter rival the United States on Sunday, calling it an “escape valve” that can help the country weather its economic crisis… The official currency, the bolivar, has depreciated more than 90% this year, while hyperinflation in the first nine months of the year clocked in at 4,680%… “I don’t see it as a bad thing … this process that they call ‘dollarization,’” Maduro said in an interview broadcast on the television channel Televen. “It can help the recovery of the country, the spread of productive forces in the country, and the economy … Thank God it exists,” the socialist leader said.

Writing for National Review, Professor Steve Hanke explains that Maduro has no choice but to move in the right direction.

Maduro, in a rare display of good judgment, is taking a necessary step toward what I have been advocating for many years: official dollarization in Venezuela. …Venezuela’s bolivar is worthless, and its annual inflation rate is the world’s highest…2,156 percent per year. Not surprisingly, Venezuelans get rid of their bolivars like hot potatoes and replace them with U.S. dollars. So, Venezuela is, to a large extent, unofficially dollarized. Official “dollarization” is a proven elixir. I know because I operated as a state counselor in Montenegro when it dumped the worthless Yugoslav dinar in 1999 and replaced it with the Deutsche mark. I also watched the successful dollarization of Ecuador in 2001… Countries that are officially dollarized produce lower, less variable inflation rates and higher, more stable economic growth rates than comparable countries with central banks that issue domestic currencies. There is a tried-and-true way to stabilize the economy…since more than 80 percent of transactions in Venezuela take place in U.S. dollars, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that the approval rating would now exceed 80 percent. So, it’s not surprising that Maduro has embraced the dollarization idea. After all, the public already does.

In another column for National Review, Steve Hanke and Craig Richardson cite what’s been happening in Zimbabwe.

They begin by pointing out that part of that nation has avoided problems by using the dollar.

Zimbabwe’s economy has gone through the wringer. In just 20 short years, it has witnessed two episodes of hyperinflation. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Zimbabwe’s real GDP per capita has plunged by 21 percent over that same period. …But,…when you enter the town of Victoria Falls, it’s as if you have walked into an alternative African economic universe. Victoria Falls is an island of stability in Zimbabwe, a country that has descended into monetary and fiscal chaos. How could this be? …Victoria Falls…has long operated under very different monetary rules. …the glue that holds Victoria Falls together is the U.S. dollar. It’s the coin of the realm in Victoria Falls. Yes, Victoria Falls is officially dollarized. It only accepts U.S. dollars for payment of property taxes and keeps its books in U.S. dollars as well.

But they also note that the entire nation enjoyed the benefits of dollarization, at least until venal politicians opted out because they wanted the power to finance more spending by printing money.

…in February 2009, a unity government was formed. …In one of its first acts, the unity government scrapped the Zimbabwe dollar and officially dollarized the country. In so doing, the printing presses were shut down; the U.S. dollar became legal tender, taxes were required to be paid in dollars, and government accounts were kept in dollars. With the imposition of a hard budget constraint, the fiscal deficit disappeared, and the economy boomed. That rebound persisted during the term of the national unity government, which lasted until July 2013. Indeed, during this period, real GDP per capita surged at an average annual rate of 11.2 percent. Zimbabwe’s period of stability was short lived, however. With the collapse of the unity government and the return of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, government spending and fiscal deficits surged, resulting in economic instability. To finance its deficits, the government created a “New Zim dollar,” and Zimbabwe de-dollarized. …The money supply exploded, as did inflation.

This column has focused on dollarization, but there are other currencies that are serve the same role. And there are currency boards/pegs as well.

This map from Wikipedia provides a helpful summary.

P.S. Some people will point out that the dollar doesn’t have a great track record and the the Federal Reserve has behaved imprudently. I certainly won’t argue against those observations. But if I’m a Venezuelan or Argentinian, I’d still prefer the dollar over a currency controlled by my politicians.

P.P.S. It’s probably in the interests of the United States to have more nations dollarize, which is an argument against extraterritorial policies that discourage use of the dollar.

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