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Why the U.S. Has Launched a New Financial World War -- and How the Rest of the World Will Fight Back

Finance is the new form of warfare -- without the expense of a military overhead and an occupation against unwilling hosts.

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The coming capital controls

The global financial system is being broken up as U.S. monetary officials change the rules they laid down nearly half a century ago. Prior to the United States going off gold in 1971, nobody dreamed that an economy - especially the United States - would create unlimited credit on computer keyboards and not see its currency plunge. But that is what happens under the Treasury-bill standard of international finance. Under this condition, foreign countries can prevent their currencies from rising against the dollar (thereby pricing their labor and exports out of foreign markets) only by (1) recycling dollar inflows into U.S. Treasury securities, (2) by imposing capital controls, or (3) by avoiding use of the dollar or other currencies used by financial speculators in economies promoting "quantitative easing."

Malaysia successfully used capital controls during the 1997 Asian Crisis to prevent short-sellers from covering their bets. This confronted speculators with a short squeeze that George Soros says made him lose money on the attempted raid. Other countries are now reviewing how to impose capital controls to protect themselves from the tsunami of credit from flowing into their currencies and buying up their assets - along with gold and other commodities that are turning into vehicles for speculation rather than actual use in production. Brazil took a modest step along this path by using tax policy rather than outright capital controls when it taxed foreign buyers of its bonds last week.

If other nations take this route, it will reverse the policy of open and unprotected capital markets adopted after World War II. This trend threatens to lead to the kind of international monetary practice found from the 1930s into the '50s: dual exchange rates, one for financial movements and another for trade. It probably would mean replacing the IMF, World Bank and WTO with a new set of institutions, isolating U.S., British and Eurozone representation.

To defend itself, the IMF is proposing to act as a "central bank" creating what was called "paper gold" in the late 1960s - artificial credit in the form of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). However, other countries already have complained that voting control remains dominated by the major promoters of arbitrage speculation - the United States, Britain and Eurozone. And the IMF's Articles of Agreement prevent countries from protecting themselves, characterizing this as "interfering" with "open capital markets." So the impasse reached this weekend appears to be permanent. As one report summarized matters: "'There is only one obstacle, which is the agreement of the members,' said a frustrated  Kahn ."

Paul Martin, the former Canadian prime minister who helped create the G20 after the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, said "said the big powers were largely immune to being named andshamed." And in a Financial Times interview Mohamed El Erian, a former senior IMF official and now chief executive of Pimco  said, "You have a burst pipe behind the wall and the water is coming out. You have to fix the pipe, not just patch the wall."

The BRIC countries are simply creating their own parallel system. In September, China  supported a Russian proposal to start direct trading between the yuan and the ruble. It has brokered a similar deal with Brazil. And on the eve of the IMF meetings in Washington on Friday, October 8, Chinese Premier Wen stopped off in Istanbul to reach agreement with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to use their own currencies in tripling Turkish-Chinese trade to $50 billion over the next five years, effectively excluding the U.S. dollar. "We are forming an economic strategic partnership In all of our relations, we have agreed to use the lira and yuan," Mr. Erdogan said.

 
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