Sunday, October 10, 2010

You Can't Lead Out Of Weakness: The IMF Meetings

With each international meeting it is becoming more and more obvious, the United States is dealing from a weakened hand.

The New York Times makes it very clear: “Despite loud calls from the United States; and more muted appeals by Europe, Japan and other countries, the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund did not succeed in placing significant pressure on China to allow a prompt and meaningful rise in the value of its currency.” (See “Financial Leaders Decline to Press China on Currency,”

The language in the concluding statement of the policy-setting committee of the IMF “was benign.” Everything was postponed to the G-20 meeting in Seoul, South Korea in November.

The United States took a strong position on the value of the Chinese currency and the behavior of the Chinese government with respect to this value. The United States Congress made its will known in late September. Treasury Secretary Geithner also spoke out about the need for action on the part of the Chinese. President Obama has even made mention of the issue.

But, policy-makers are “wary about pressuring China too severely.”

Right now, China seems to hold the cards and no one is willing to move strongly against their position.

Most revealing is the fact that the United States seems to be in no position to press its points with its own actions and does not seem to be strong enough to command support among the other nations that might side with it.

Furthermore, the central bank of the United States, the Federal Reserve System, appears to be on the verge of another round of “quantitative easing”, something that world financial markets have reacted to by selling dollars. The world investment community has not given the United States a very good grade in terms of how its government has managed the monetary and fiscal policy of the country over the past eight years or so and sees these additional efforts as just a continuation of the lack of foresight and discipline and will in its economic policymaking.

If this is the prevailing attitude in the world about the economic policy of the United States, then one can only project further declines in the position of this country in the evolving discussions about world financial arrangements.

The United States has dealt itself a weak hand in world economic affairs. Unless it steps back and re-assesses how it got here and what it needs to do to change the situation, it will just continue to further weaken its position. And, it is very hard for a nation to lead when it is continually hurting itself.

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