Will the 'Dollar Wars' Kill What's Left of the American Dream?
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Here's a terrible joke: An elderly man walks into a bar and says, "I got good news and I got bad news."
"What's the good news?" the bartender asks.
"I stayed out of the stock market, so my retirement dollars are safe."
"What's the bad news?"
OK, I said it was a terrible joke. But that may be what the dollar is becoming, now that the critical mass of wartime spending, rampant consumption, hyper-real finance and environmental collapse has hit the fan.
The hangover from the last three presidential terms, but especially the last two, has taken the American economy down the rabbit hole, with the international monetary system begging for mercy while hitched to its off-the-ralls crazy train. But the ride has stopped, and some countries yoked to America's currency, and therefore its cratering empire, don't want to get back on.
Namely, Brazil, Russia, India and China, loosely termed BRIC by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill, who is not alone in predicting the four countries' ascendant power, as the United States and the Eurozone fade into the 20th century.
With Brazil and Russia lording over a large share of what's left of the planet's natural gas and oil, and China and India providing a titanic labor force that rivals the intelligence, productivity and regimentation of workers anywhere outside their borders, BRIC is in the house, big time. And it wants a say in what's going on, as Marvin Gaye sang.
What's going on is that the dollar, to which the majority of the planet's economies and currencies are now reliant, has us all by the proverbial balls, and BRIC is screaming about it in the press. Something has to give, it's saying, and that thing is the dollar.
"There is a lot of political and economic posturing involved," Rachel Zimeba, lead analyst at economist Nouriel Roubini's RGE Monitor, explained to AlterNet. "But I think there is substance to it. China has been trying, relatively unsuccessfully, to diversify for a couple of years, which has conflicted with its desire to have undervalued exports. Same thing has happened to countries in the Middle East, which are pegged to the dollar. And we're going to see even more pressure to diversify from these countries to reduce the share of their [dollar] assets.
"They see that the U.S. has a rising debt burden and record financing needs. Over time, they are worried that inflation and a weaker dollar will reduce the value of those assets."
They should be worried. Since the Bush administration took office, the dollar has lost 33 percent of its value. And since the Bushies left office, the dollar has been on autopilot, hovering beneath the pound and euro and jockeying for position with the Canadian dollar for the bronze medal in underperforming currencies, losing or gaining altitude every time a politician from Russia or China slams or praises it in the press. Like the American economy itself, the Humpty Dumpty dollar is wobbling on the fence, hoping reality doesn't hop along and give it a shove.
The good news? It could land softly.
"This is not an overnight thing," Ziemba added. "Same thing goes for these countries' attempts to turn their own currencies into transactional and reserve currencies."
That's reassuring, especially to what's left of those who still have a lot of dollars, as the American unemployment rate rises to levels nearly unseen since World War II. But once you wormhole a bit further into the future, the dollar's fate is much more murky.