By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”
1. What is your opinion about fixed exchange rate regimes?
A. Fixed exchange rate regimes are useful in crisis circumstances, when the restoration of stability and the trust of citizens, investors, and speculators is essential. Such harsh measures, usually coupled with capital controls, should be short-term and lifted immediately when the economy had picked up and expectations have settled.
Maintaining a fixed-rate regime in the long-term has nefarious and dangerous consequences as the exchange rate diverges further and further from the real value of the currency, adjusted to inflation. This erodes the competitiveness of exporters, renders imports relatively cheap, distorts the price signal throughout the economy (in other words: people don’t know what the real value of their currency is abroad). It also leads to speculative attacks on the currency from the outside (if the currency is convertible and traded in free foreign exchange markets) – or from the inside (in the form of a thriving black foreign exchange market.)
2. What is the connection between exchange rate policies and better economic results?
A. This depends on how open the country is to the global capital markets and what percentage of its GDP is made up of international trade and various transfers from abroad (such as remittances.) As a rule, the more exposed a country is to the ups and downs of the global market, the more it should have a flexible and adaptable exchange rate policy. A country that exports and imports a lot needs to have competitive manufacturing, services (e.g., tourism), and agricultural sectors. An important part of such competitiveness is having the correct exchange rate which reflects inflation differentials, purchasing power disparities, relative advantages, and structural elements. Such constant adjustment (up AND down, for instance within a band) is excluded by a fixed rate regime. By adopting a fixed exchange rate, the country is giving up on one of its most important automatic economic stabilizers and policy tools, as Greece is discovering now to its great cost.
3. Is a fixed exchange rate good for controlling inflation? Is there a possibility to control the prices and make a correction of the value of the currency?
Inflation reflects expectations of the population regarding the future level of prices. These expectations are affected by the level of stability inside the country – but also by factors outside it. In a country that is open to international trade, foreign capital flows, and foreign direct investment, external instability is far more important than internal stability. Indeed, in countries like Macedonia, Israel, and Brazil, most of the inflation comes from the outside via the soaring prices of imports such as energy products, foodstuffs, and raw materials. There is little the monetary authorities can do to affect such imported inflation.
Still, it is true that a string of unannounced, arbitrary, unscripted, incomprehensible, and large devaluations will create inflation. The exchange rate policy has to be transparent, predictable, rational, and adaptable. There are dozens of countries around the world with various modesl of flexible exchange rates and, yet, with stable prices: these two are not mutually exclusive. Flexible exchange rates mean that the currency can do down (devaluation) – but also up (appreciation or revaluation.)
4. What happens to an economy if people from abroad stop sending money?
Depends on: (1) What is the share of remittances in the GDP; and (2) What are the remittances used for. In most poor countries remittances constitute 10-15% of GDP and they are used by the recipients mostly for consumption. When remittances decline, consumption and GDP are adversely affected, the level of foreign exchange reserves declines, and outlays on social welfare increase.
5. Can a country defeat the trade deficit with a fixed exchange rate?
The exchange rate is only one component in the overall competitiveness of the economy. Structural reforms in the public sector and various institutions; infusion of management and marketing skills; innovation; a functioning financial system; new inputs (equipment, information technology, intellectual property under license); focused and up-to- date training and re-skilling; better access to core export markets; the economic conditions in these export markets; level and relevance of the workforce’s education; mentality and ethos – all these are as important as the exchange rate alone. Germany and Japan had overvalued currencies for decades and still were able to achieve prosperity and dominate international trade.
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