Finance

Why Obama Will Get An Earful About The Fed's $600 Billion Plan

Paper Currency Is Designed And Printed At Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Fed said its plan to create $600 billion out of thin air is a form of domestic stimulus.

But that's not how officials in other countries see it. To them, it looks more like the U.S. manipulating its currency to gain an advantage in world markets.

And with President Obama and other world leaders meeting in Seoul this week to discuss the global economy, we're sure to hear more about it.

Ben Bernanke described the Fed's plan as domestic stimulus: It should drive down interest rates, which is supposed to get people to borrow and spend more, and companies to start hiring.

Bernanke didn't mention that the decline in interest rates is also likely to drive some investors to move their money out of the U.S. and into other countries — places like Brazil, where interest rates are higher.

As a result, the value of the dollar will fall relative to other currencies. A weaker dollar means U.S. exports will be cheaper in other countries. In the short run, that could help the U.S. by boosting exports.

But those gains would come at the expense of other countries, which would see their exports grow more expensive in dollar terms.

Economists have a term of art for this sort of policy: Beggar thy neighbor.

This is a particularly sensitive issue at the moment; back in September, Brazil's finance minister said the world is in the midst of a "currency war," with everybody trying to make their currency weaker to gain an advantage.

And this sort of thing is precisely what the U.S. has been accusing China of doing. Germany's finance minister put it this way in an interview with Der Spiegel:

It's inconsistent for the Americans to accuse the Chinese of manipulating exchange rates and then to artificially depress the dollar exchange rate by printing money.

Chinese officials, too, seized on the move. According to the WSJ, the country's vice foreign minister said:

It would be appropriate for someone to step forward and give us an explanation, otherwise international confidence in the recovery and growth of the global economy might be hurt.

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