In 1971, President Nixon imposed national price controls and took the United States off the gold standard, an extreme measure intended to end an ongoing currency war that had destroyed faith in the U.S. dollar. Today we are engaged in a new currency war, and this time the consequences will be far worse than those that confronted Nixon.
Currency wars are one of the most destructive and feared outcomes in international economics. At best, they offer the sorry spectacle of countries’ stealing growth from their trading partners. At worst, they degenerate into sequential bouts of inflation, recession, retaliation, and sometimes actual violence. Left unchecked, the next currency war could lead to a crisis worse than the panic of 2008.
Currency wars have happened before-twice in the last century alone-and they always end badly. Time and again, paper currencies have collapsed, assets have been frozen, gold has been confiscated, and capital controls have been imposed. And the next crash is overdue. Recent headlines about the debasement of the dollar, bailouts in Greece and Ireland, and Chinese currency manipulation are all indicators of the growing conflict.
As James Rickards argues in Currency Wars, this is more than just a concern for economists and investors. The United States is facing serious threats to its national security, from clandestine gold purchases by China to the hidden agendas of sovereign wealth funds. Greater than any single threat is the very real danger of the collapse of the dollar itself.
Baffling to many observers is the rank failure of economists to foresee or prevent the economic catastrophes of recent years. Not only have their theories failed to prevent calamity, they are making the currency wars worse. The U. S. Federal Reserve has engaged in the greatest gamble in the history of finance, a sustained effort to stimulate the economy by printing money on a trillion-dollar scale. Its solutions present hidden new dangers while resolving none of the current dilemmas.
While the outcome of the new currency war is not yet certain, some version of the worst-case scenario is almost inevitable if U.S. and world economic leaders fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Rickards untangles the web of failed paradigms, wishful thinking, and arrogance driving current public policy and points the way toward a more informed and effective course of action.
Jim Rickards, who is famous, among other things, for his ability to accurately predict the Fed’s moves ahead of time. His most recent accurate call was the implementation of Operation Twist, i.e the selling of short-term government debt and the buying of long-term government debt in order to increase short-term interest rates and decrease long-term interest rates.
The main theme of the book is that the world is already heading toward a full-blown currency war which will bring even harsher economic turmoil to the world economy than the one we experienced in the last three years since the housing bubble burst in the U.S.
Rickards explores in depth, basing his arguments on past currency wars such as the one after WW1 between several European countries and the U.S., and why currency wars are a lose-lose situation. In short, Rickards’s main argument is that countries around the world are devaluing their currencies in order to boost their exports (domestically produced goods and services will be cheaper for foreigners) thereby increasing their GDP. However, such actions will frequently be met by mutual currency devaluation by other countries or by some protectionist policy such as tariffs. Therefore, countries will gain a temporary advantage until other countries retaliate, the end result of which will be: inflation brought on from currency devaluation, protectionism and the halt of free trade, thus – wealth destruction. And in a worst case scenario, an outright military conflict.
As was mentioned above, I found Rickards’s thesis to be well argued and backed with plenty of historical facts. To sum up, this book just has it all, great and engaging writing, fascinating economic history, and shrewd analysis of the current and coming global crisis.