Skip to main content

McKinnon and Wolf on global imbalances and Chinese liberalization

This is a bit old. It was published earlier this month in the Financial Times, as a response to Wolf's column. McKinnon is a well-known exchange rate specialist, and one of the few that has, correctly in my judgment, not been overly concerned with the international role of the dollar for the last three decades. His concern with Chinese liberalization of financial markets is that it would lead to inflows, since interest rates in the developed world are too low, and instead of balancing the trade surpluses, it would lead to more accumulation of reserves. The implicit notion is that if rates of interest were higher abroad, and Chinese funds flowed abroad it would be okay to liberalize, one supposes.

Note that this is also what Martin Wolf suggested in the original column (subscription required). In his words: "In the long run China’s capital account will presumably become largely open and in time, no doubt, China’s savers will own large parts of the world." In other words, the idea is that Chinese funds would finance the over spending in the rest of the world, and help in dealing with global imbalances, and Chinese savers would invest in real assets abroad. In contrast, if inflows were added to the trade surpluses, the Chinese would add to the 'problem' of the global imbalances.

Note that this view goes hand in hand with the notion that the accumulation of reserves is intrinsically bad. Wolf says:
"The principal form of capital outflow has been the accumulation of foreign currency reserves by the government. At $3.8tn last December (almost $3,000 for each Chinese person), these are gigantic and extremely unrewarding. It would be far better if some of this were converted into real assets."
Don't get me wrong, China holds more reserves than it needs for avoiding a currency crisis, or any sort of balance of payments problem that might arise (in a very distant future). Yet, the notion that China could open the capital account and not get into the kinds of problems that all the countries that liberalized financial markets did seems excessively optimistic.

There is essentially no problem if China maintains a trade surplus and attracts capital flows, increasing their reserves. And that has no relation to the financing of their investment, or the transition to a more consumer oriented economy. As I said a while ago global rebalancing is one of the myths of the current crisis. If the US grows faster, say as the result of an improbable fiscal expansion, the imbalances would grow larger, and that would be good.

I hope that China doesn't open the capital account, but that has nothing to do with the global imbalances, and all to do with the problems of financial liberalization.
In the long run China’s capital account will presumably become largely open and in time, no doubt, China’s savers will own large parts of the world. - See more at:


Popular posts from this blog

A few brief comments on Brexit and the postmortem of the European Union

Another end of the world is possible
There will be a lot of postmortems for the European Union (EU) after Brexit. Many will suggest that this was a victory against the neoliberal policies of the European Union. See, for example, the first three paragraphs of Paul Mason's column here. And it is true, large contingents of working class people, that have suffered with 'free-market' economics, voted for leaving the union. The union, rightly or wrongly, has been seen as undemocratic and responsible for the economics woes of Europe.

The problem is that while it is true that the EU leaders have been part of the problem and have pursued the neoliberal policies within the framework of the union, sometimes with treaties like the Fiscal Compact, it is far from clear that Brexit and the possible demise of the union, if the fever spreads to France, Germany and other countries with their populations demanding their own referenda, will lead to the abandonment of neoliberal policies. Aust…

A brief note on Venezuela and the turn to the right in Latin America

So besides the coup in Brazil (which was all but confirmed by the last revelations, if you had any doubts), and the electoral victory of Macri in Argentina, the crisis in Venezuela is reaching a critical level, and it would not be surprising if the Maduro administration is recalled, even though right now the referendum is not scheduled yet.

The economy in Venezuela has collapsed (GDP has fallen by about 14% or so in the last two years), inflation has accelerated (to three digit levels; 450% or so according to the IMF), there are shortages of essential goods, recurrent energy blackouts, and all of these aggravated by persistent violence. Contrary to what the press suggests, these events are not new or specific to left of center governments. Similar events occurred in the late 1980s, in the infamous Caracazo, when the fall in oil prices caused an external crisis, inflation, and food shortages, which eventually, after the announcement of a neoliberal economic package that included the i…

What is the 'Classical Dichotomy'?