My Mom

My mom passed away around 6:30 Sunday morning November 22,
2009. This came several months after she happily said her good byes and
expected and hoped to leave us after what she called a wonderful life. It
deserves to be called a wonderful life, but it was not always an easy one.

Her father, William Penn (the great, great grandson of the
founder of Pennsylvania), died when she was two. Her mother remarried an older
man when she was three and half year old and within the year he had a stroke
after which they all moved to Bakersfield (where I was born) for his health. He
was unable to work and was abusive and my grandmother divorced him. The Great
Depression struck soon after they moved to Bakersfield, and my grandmother fed
the household of my mother, two older sisters, a brother, and my grand mother’s
mother, by sewing cloths and eventually teaching sewing for the Singer Company.
At 14 my mother managed the household’s meager budget, cleaned, and cooked for
the household (her two older sisters were in a government sanitarium for the
undernourished—not because of my mother’s cooking I hope—her mother was working
full time to pay for the food, her grandmother didn’t do anything useful, and
brothers didn’t cook in those days).

My mom grew up tough in many ways and vulnerable in others.
She had strong opinions about what was good and right but she was never
dogmatic. She was always open to new ideas and loved learning as much as she
loved teaching. If she encountered facts that challenged her opinions, she
reconsidered her views. After my brother, sister and I had left home for
college my mom finished her high school equivalency exam and started classes at
the local Jr. College (which I also had attended for two years before going to
U.C. Berkeley). She loved it so much that she kept going and graduated with a
teaching degree.

Teaching became mom’s passion. She loved helping people and
especially kids and especially those who struggled. She could and would squash
anyone who hurt a kid (or anyone else) in any way and for any reason. Though
she hated what modern reading and teaching methods were doing to move
California from #1 in the nation (in reading scores) to #50, she recoiled from
hate mongering and those who spread hate. She gladly took the worse discipline
problems in school because she never tolerated or had discipline problems in
her classes. She believed that kids wanted to succeed and responded to
realistic hope that they could. Within days she had the worst of them working
with her to make the class room a fun and exciting learning experience.

From her teaching experiences with remedial readers, she
developed a reading technique that produced dramatic results with even the most
deficient readers. “Bungy Jumping Into Reading” LLC offers her technique, which
uses word games as the core of the approach that disarms non readers from their
fears of failure and draws them into a competitive challenge that is fun (and

Yes, she did have a wonderful life. She and her husband of
68 years, my father, had many friends, enjoyed life, and spread goodness and
light wherever they went. Mom was a fighter; she fought with love. I, and many
others, will miss her.

Do we need a new global currency?

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.
-Charles Dickens

Economic forces help me keep my expenditures within my income over time. Companies that are not able to generate revenue greater than their expenditures over time are forced to close. Governments and countries must ultimately live within their means as well. Governments can spend more than they receive in taxes by borrowing, but purchasers of their debt will stop lending to any government whose debt they think is growing too large for the government to service. Governments can and have defaulted on their debts. Countries as a whole can ultimately only buy from the rest of the world what they pay for with what they sell to the rest of the world. The economic forces that operate, and that need to operate, to keep whole nations within their means take us to the heart of the current debate about the international monetary system and the role of the U.S. dollar in that system.

Like any other economy, the Cayman Islands must ultimately live within its means as well and the fact that its currency is exchangeable for U.S. dollars at a fixed exchange rate means that the behavior of the U.S. dollar is particularly important for Caymanians.


A country (all of its people, companies, and government
taken together) must live within its means in the same way that individuals do.
Its expenditures abroad must not exceed its income from abroad in the long run.
Like individuals, countries can finance some foreign spending by borrowing but
only as long as their capacity to repay their foreign debts remains credible.
And, like prudent individuals, most countries also build up reserves (savings)
that can be drawn upon when their foreign income falls temporarily short of
foreign expenditures.

Virtually the only aspect of transacting abroad that sets it
apart from transaction at home is that most countries have their own currency.
Generally we expect to receive our own currency when we sell abroad and
foreigners expect to receive theirs when they sell to us. Thus a country’s
foreign reserves (usually owned by its central bank) must be held in a currency
acceptable abroad. Almost two thirds of the world’s official (government owned)
foreign exchange reserves of 6.7 trillion dollars are held in U.S. dollars
(predominantly U.S. Treasury securities). The only other important currency in foreign
exchange reserves is the Euro with 27% of the total.

A country’s expenditures abroad are largely for imports and
it generates foreign income by exporting and from the return on foreign
investments or gifts. When the outflow of money from importing exceeds the
inflow from exporting, the foreign trade deficit is financed from the country’s
foreign currency reserves (a currency that is accepted abroad) or by borrowing
foreign currency if it can.[1]  To build up foreign currency reserves
in the first place the country must export more than it imports (have a trade
or current account surplus).

The United States, as the reserve currency provider, is
unique among nations because it needs no reserve of foreign currency. The rest
of the world will accept the U.S. dollar. It needs only to print more of them
to satisfy any demand. When China or other countries want to increase their
reserves of dollars, they must export more than they import and the U.S. must
do the reverse. A key issue is how this system maintains the desired balance
between these flows and adjusts them when deficits and surpluses are excessive.
Related to that issue is whether the approximately $4 1/2 trillion U.S. dollars
held in official reserves are potentially destabilizing given serious concerns
about the future value of the dollar and dollar interest rates in the face of
huge prospective U.S. government deficits.  Would externally produced reserve assets, such as gold or the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) of the International Monetary Fund, be better or helpful?

Regulation by Markets

The Balance of Payments Adjustment Mechanism

When my budget is out of whack I can draw down my savings or
borrow for a while if the imbalance is temporary. Once I have used up my
savings and cannot borrow more, I am forced to either work harder to generate
more income in order to sustain the level of my consumption or cut back on my
expenditures. The same is true for countries. The counterparts to working
harder or reducing consumption for a nation as a whole are to export more
and/or import less.

The economic force that brings about the adjustment of
unsustainable trade imbalances is what economists call the terms of trade. The
terms of trade, or real exchange rate, is the price relevant for international
trade. The price to me of an IBM/Lenovo PC produced in China depends on its
price in Chinese renminbi and the exchange rate of renminbi for dollars (and
the price of American exports in China depend on their U.S. dollar prices and
the exchange rate). When the exchange rate of the dollar depreciates (buys less
of other currencies) imports into the U.S. become more expensive and exports
become cheaper to foreigners and thus more competitive.  Collectively the U.S. will import less and export more. But a change in the terms of trade can also result from
changes in the Chinese or American prices of traded goods. If the Chinese do
not want to accumulate more dollar reserves, economic pressure will change the
terms of trade so as to make Chinese goods more expensive in the U.S. and
American goods cheaper in China in order to reduce the trade deficit and thus
the need for China to accumulate as many dollars. The depreciation in the REAL
exchange rate needed to reduce the large U.S. trade deficit can result from a
depreciation of the renminbi/dollar exchange rate or from a deflation in the
U.S. or inflation in China (or, obviously, some combination of these). Focusing
on the nominal exchange rate only, can be misleading.

The market forces that produce the terms of trade adjustment
just described operate differently, but to the same effect, when countries have
fixed exchange rates, as they do if they use the same currency (as was the case
in effect with the gold standard), or freely floating, market determined
exchange rates. A trade deficit (actually the more comprehensive current
account deficit) in one country has its counterpart in surpluses in other

When governments play by the rules of the gold standard or any other fixed
exchange rate regime, the gold or foreign exchange reserves of the deficit
country fall reducing its money supply (its importers sell their currency to
the central bank for foreign reserves/gold). The opposite happens in the
surplus countries. Foreign exporters sell the gold/foreign exchange to their
central banks for their national currency, the supply of which increases.
Prices fall in the deficit country and rise in the surplus countries. This
market process changes the real exchange rate (terms of trade) in the direction
that adjusts imports and exports so as to reduce trade deficits and surpluses.
With market determined exchange rates and (let’s assume) domestic inflation
targets for the national currencies, foreign exchange markets experience a
surplus of the deficit country’s currency and a shortage of the surplus
country’s currencies. The excess supply of the deficit currency results in the
depreciation of its exchange rate, which has the same effect on the real
exchange rate (terms of trade) described above for the gold standard.

This rule-based system has suffered two problems. Countries
often did not play by the rules (e.g., they might sterilize the market effects
on their money supplies). Even if they did, when an external asset like gold is
replaced by a national currency as the international system’s reserve asset,
the country that supplies it (the U.S. in the currency system) must run a
current account deficit in order to supply the dollars the rest of the world
wants. As it is supplying its own currency, it will never run out of “foreign
exchange reserves.” The U.S. can supply its dollars to the world as long as it
wants them. It is not forced to “adjust” to large deficits in the way other
countries are. The system rests on the rest of the world’s confidence in the
stability of the value of the dollar in all of its dimensions. Neglect of this
reality and responsibility by the United States could result in a catastrophic
flight from the dollar.[3]

World Demand for Dollars

For a variety of reasons, many countries in the last few
decades chose to keep their exchange rates low enough relative to the U.S.
dollar to facilitate the growth of their export sectors or to accumulate larger
foreign exchange reserves. Many developing countries following the earlier
example of Japan have adopted an export lead strategy for development. For some
this strategy took the healthy form of removing trade restrictions that allowed
the growth of both imports and exports subjecting their economies to greater
competition and promoting greater efficiency and productivity. But some, such
as China, promoted exports at the expense of imports as their strategy for
growth. These countries set their exchange rates (explicitly or via foreign
exchange market intervention by their central banks) below levels that would produce
balance between imports and exports. To prevent the resulting inflow of surplus
dollars from depreciating their currency’s exchange rate in the market, the
central banks of these countries intervened to buy the excess dollars (often
sterilizing the domestic monetary consequences of such intervention to prevent
inflation, thus violating the rules of the game). The result was an increase,
and often a very large increase, in their foreign exchange reserves (ownership
of U.S. dollar assets).

In some cases, countries wished to increase their foreign
exchange reserves for sound prudential reasons. Following the Asian financial
crisis of 1997, many Asian countries thought that the conditions imposed by the
IMF for its temporary balance of payments financial assistant were too harsh.
In order to avoid them in the future, they determined to increase their
reserves to levels that would avoid the need to borrow from the IMF when their
exchange rates were under attack.

For these and other reasons many countries ran international
trade surpluses that greatly increased their foreign exchange reserves. Their
surpluses were necessarily matched by the deficits of others, largely the
United States. Twenty years ago as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down the
United States imported $580 billion worth of goods and services from the rest
of the world (1989). This was about 11% of U.S. domestic production (GDP). The
U.S. paid for most of that by exporting $487 billion worth of goods and
services. The shortfall (trade deficit) of $93 billion was more than paid for
by the net income received by American’s from their investments abroad. This
modest trade deficit of 1.7% of GDP rose to an unsustainable 5.7% of GDP by
2006. Thus the result of the build up of reserves in China and other surplus countries has been a huge inflow of capital into the deficit countries (largely investments in the United
States—largely U.S. government securities). [4]

Though this huge accumulation of dollar assets abroad was in
response to world demand for reserves, it has created a system that is
dependent on the stability of the American economy and the value of its
currency. The system is vulnerable to the successful conduct of American
monetary and fiscal policies. But the arrangement complicates American
macroeconomic policy. The desire of others to accumulate dollar reserves
flooded American financial markets with liquidity, which lowered interest
rates. If the Federal Reserve had tried to raise interest rates it would only
have attracted even more foreign inflows thus appreciating the dollar and
worsening the American current account deficit. These conditions (plus American
housing policy and other factors[5]) fed the housing price bubble in the U.S.[6]

The value of the dollar is now in doubt. Financing America’s
huge current and even larger prospective fiscal deficits will be difficult and
promises higher interest rate or higher inflation or both. Either of these
developments will reduce the value of foreign exchange reserves held in
dollars. Any slowdown in the accumulation of dollars abroad, much less any
effort to reduce them by diversifying out of the dollar, would greatly
accelerate the fall in the dollar’s exchange value. This poses a serious
dilemma for countries with large dollar reserves. Should they try to diversity
out of dollars and thus contribute to the further fall of dollar or should they
stick it out and suffer whatever losses are expected.

Both the Governor of the Peoples Bank of China (China’s
central bank) and the President of Russia have recently called for the ultimate
replacement of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency with one issued
by the IMF (the Special Drawing Right—SDR).[7],[8] The SDR was created in 1969, just before the collapse of the Bretton Woods international currency system, precisely for this purpose. With the abandonment of the gold exchange standard and the floating of the dollar’s exchange rate in 1971, the need for SDRs became less pressing. The G20 heads of
state meeting in London in early April 2009 called for an additional $250 billion dollar allocation of SDRs, almost an eight-fold increase over the current stock of $32 billion. These were allocated August 28, 2009.


[Side bar on the SDR]

Special Drawing Rights

Most people have forgotten what SDR’s are (if they ever knew). Like dollars or any other currency, the SDR is both a unit of account and a means of payment. The value of
the SDR was originally defined as the market value of 0.888671 grams of fine gold, which in 1969 was equal to one U.S. dollar. Currently one SDR is the market value of a basket of 0.632 U.S. dollars, 0.41 Euros, 18.4 Japanese yen, and 0.0903 Pound sterling. At the time
the current basket was adopted (January 1, 2006—its valuation basket or method
of valuation is reviewed and adjusted every five years) these amounts reflected
weights of 44 % for the U.S. dollar, 34% for the euro, and 11% each for
the Japanese yen and pound sterling. Over time these weights vary with the
exchange rates of the fixed currency amounts in the basket. The U.S. dollar
values of the amounts of each currency in the valuation basket are determined
in the market each day and added up to determined that day’s value of the SDR
(see the table below).

All of the IMF’s financial activities, in particular its
loans, are valued in SDRs. These SDR denominated loans are not SDRs proper any
more than U.S. Treasury bonds are U.S. dollars proper. The SDR amount of credit
due to the IMF varies over time as its lending activity varies. IMF loans are
actually disbursed to borrowing central bank largely in member currencies
(primarily U.S. dollars), but the obligations are denominated in SDRs.

Friday, April
03, 2009

Currency Currency amount under Rule O-1 Exchange rate 1 U.S. dollar equivalent Percent change in exchange rate against U.S. dollar from
previous calculation





Japanese yen




Pound sterling





U.S. dollar






U.S.$1.00 = SDR

0.666621 2

-0.233 3

SDR1 = US$

1.50010 4



(1) The exchange rate for the
Japanese yen is expressed in terms of currency units per U.S. dollar; other
rates are expressed as U.S. dollars per currency unit.
(2) IMF Rule O-2(a) defines the
value of the U.S. dollar in terms of the SDR as the reciprocal of the sum of
the equivalents in U.S. dollars of the amounts of the currencies in the SDR
basket, rounded to six significant digits. Each U.S. dollar equivalent is
calculated on the basis of the middle rate between the buying and selling
exchange rates at noon in the London market. If the exchange rate for any
currency cannot be obtained from the London Market, the rate shall be the middle
rate between the buying and selling exchange rates at noon in the New York
market or, if not available there, the rate shall be determined on the basis
of euro reference rates published by the European Central Bank.
(3) Percent change in value of
one U.S. dollar in terms of SDRs from previous calculation.
(4) The reciprocal of the value
of the U.S dollar in terms of the SDR, rounded to six significant digits.


Prepared by the IMF Finance Department

What we might call the SDR proper, the SDR denominated
reserve asset allocated by the IMF—the SDR the Governor of the Peoples Bank of
China was referring to–, has played a very limited role to date. Prior to the
new allocation of SDRs in August 2009, the IMF had only issued SDR 21.433
billion of them (the equivalent of about 32 billion U.S. dollars at current
exchange rates). For perspective, this might be compared with the amount of
credit directly created by the Federal Reserve (Federal Reserve Credit) of
about $2 trillion dollars over most of 2009 or the 250 billion U.S. dollar
allocation last August. The new allocation, by raising the stock of SDRs from
21.4 billion to $271.4 billion, will provide a very big boost to the SDR.

An SDR allocation is similar to a line of credit. SDRs are
“allocated” to IMF members in proportion to their quotas in the IMF, which
roughly reflect their economic size and importance in world trade. Allocated
are credited to the SDR account with the IMF as additional SDRs owned and held
by each receiving member. At the same time the member’s SDR account with the
IMF will record a liability for the same amount. The member will earn interest
at the SDR interest rate on whatever SDRs it holds[9]
and must pay interest at the same rate on its SDR liabilities. If it continues
to hold the SDRs it was allocated, the member will earn the same interest
income that it pays on its allocation.[10]
In short, if it does not use any of its SDRs and does not acquire additional
ones in payments from other IMF members or other holders or buy them, its
interest income on its SDR holdings and payments on its net cumulative
allocations will be equal and will thus cancel out. The member will enjoy
larger foreign exchange reserves at no cost (but with no net interest return).
If the member uses 100 million of its SDRs, for example, its interest income
will fall by that amount times the SDR interest rate, but its charges for its
net cumulative allocation will remain unchanged (other than from changes in the
SDR interest rate). In short, the member would then have a net charge to the
extent of its net use of its SDRs. This is the sense in which an SDR allocation
is like a line of credit (without the commitment fee or risk of cancelation).
Conversely, if the member acquires additional SDRs from other central banks so
that its holdings of SDRs exceed its net cumulative allocation, it will enjoy
net income to that extent at the SDR interest rate.

If the demand for SDRs equals or exceeds their supply,
countries can use their SDRs directly. The Chinas of the world, with foreign
exchange reserves of $2 trillion (mostly in U.S. dollars), would be happy to
accept and hold SDRs in payment for another country’s financial obligations or
to buy them (rather than dollars) for dollars. Most countries using their SDRs
first converted them into dollars by selling them for dollars to another
central bank in so-called “Transactions by Agreement.” However, the system also
has a mechanism, so called “Transactions with Designation,” by which countries
with a strong balance of payments can be designated to buy SDRs for dollars, or
Euros (or another freely useable currency) when a holder wishing to sell them
for currency cannot find a buyer in a Transaction by Agreement. Official SDRs
may also be lent, swapped, and sold forward.

[End of side bar]


A Future for the SDR?

The current system suffers from several weaknesses. a)
Currencies pegged to the U.S. dollar need to have reserves of dollar assets to
avoid the exchange rate risks associated with fluctuations in the dollar’s
exchange rate with other currencies. Thus the value of the approximately $4.5
trillion of official reserves held in dollars are exposed to whatever happens
to the value of the dollar and the U.S. has not always been a good steward of
the responsibilities that come with being the supplier of the world’s reserve
currency. b) Market discipline of America’s policies that affect its external
balance is weak because the United States, as the supplier of the reserve
currency, is not subject to the restraining power of a loss of reserves when
its monetary and fiscal policies are too lax. c) The ongoing growth in desired
reserves as the world’s output grows requires an American current account
deficit large enough to supply them and the accumulated stock of external
claims on the U.S. can and has grown very large. d) Changes in world demand for
dollars (e.g. because of easier IMF terms for balance of payment support that
reduce the need for reserves, or a loss of confidence in the dollar) may be
hard to absorb and if abrupt could produce wide swings in the external value of
the dollar.

The use of an externally supply reserve asset such as gold
overcomes the first three of these problems and reduces to the scope of the
forth one (a loss of confidence is unlikely). The pros and cons of and the
historical experience with the gold standard have been extensively written
about. The Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) of the IMF are more recent and less
widely known.

The SDR has a very important advantage over dollars or gold.
Its supply can grow (by allocation by the IMF on the basis of the decision of
an 85% weighted majority of its members) without the need for a balance of
payments deficit by the U.S. (or any other supplier of a currency used as
international reserves) or the mining and refining coats of gold (or any other
commodity that might be used). SDR allocations are distributed in proportion to
member countries’ quotas in the IMF and growth in members’ reserve demand is
not likely to exactly match such a distribution (though it is a reasonable
first approximation given the economic basis for members’ quotas). Thus some
marginal reallocations would occur that would have to involve balance of
payments deficits and surpluses. However, these would be much smaller than are
now required to supply the world with the dollars it demands.

An enhanced role for the SDR might be limited to providing
some or all of the future growth in foreign exchange reserve desired by countries
or might also replace some of the existing dollar reserves.[11]
If all further increases in international reserve assets were in SDRs, any
dollars purchased by the Peoples Bank, for example, to preserve its nominal
exchange rate and/or to expand its reserves (as with the gold standard or gold
exchange standard) would be sold to the U.S. for SDRs. It would add SDRs rather
than dollars to its reserves. The U.S. could no longer print dollars (issue
Treasury securities) to satisfy China’s demand for reserves. If the U.S.
holdings of SDR’s ran short, it would need to allow the upward pressure on its
interest rates that would naturally result from its purchases of dollars (thus
reducing the supply of dollars in the market) in order to increase the capital
inflows needed to provide it with the SDR’s demanded by China. The market
adjustment mechanism that now applies to the rest of the world would apply to
the U.S. as well.[12] It would be more difficult for the U.S. to undermine the global balance
adjustment mechanism as it does now.

To replace some or all of existing dollar reserves with SDRs
would require much larger allocations of SDRs or the creation in the market of
significant quantities of private SDRs (SDR denominated bonds and other
financial claims). The SDR faces a unique challenge because of its current
official valuation as a basket of currencies. The official SDR allocated by the
IMF must currently be exchanged for dollars or other national currencies at the
official exchange rates calculated daily by the IMF on the basis of current
market exchange rates for these currencies. Thus it may not be the case that
China or some other holders of SDRs can find IMF member countries willing to
buy them at that price on any particular occasion. Dollar reserves can always
be sold because the price of dollar asset may fall if necessary until willing
buyers materialize.

All fiat monies gained acceptance initially by being
exchangeable for something else (such as gold). The U.S. dollar’s acceptance
internationally was bolstered by its convertibility into gold by the U.S.
Treasury until international claims on American gold so far exceeded America’s
holding of gold that President Nixon was forced to end the dollar’s
convertibility in 1971.[13] Yet the world’s demand for and use of dollars continued to grow based on its ultimate convertibility into American goods and services and reasonably
predictable prices.

While internationally traded commodities like oil, gold,
copper, silver, diamonds etc might well be priced in SDRs and wholesale
purchases settled in (private) SDRs, the official SDRs held in central bank
reserves would generally need to be converted into a national currency to be
fully usable, and as noted abovevwould need to be exchanged at the IMF’s
official rate for that day. To deal with this situation, IMF member countries
judged to be in a sufficiently strong balance of payment position are required
to accept SDRs when designated by the IMF to do so. This is not likely to be a
significant burden in normal times as the global growth in reserve demand would
produce sufficient opportunities to sell SDRs for those wishing to do so. In
unusual periods in which the global demand for reserves (including SDRs) falls,
the “burden” of being designated to accept them in exchange for dollar, Euros
or some other freely usable currency could be reduced by a cancelation of SDRs,
which like an allocation would fall on countries in proportion to their IMF


The key advantages of the SDR over the U.S. dollar (or any
reserve currency issued by a national central bank) are that its value is more
stable relative to currencies in general (being a currency basket)[14],
its supply is determined by collective decision of the IMF’s member countries,
it is added to each countries’ reserves (to the extend of each countries
allocation) without cost (now countries must sell their goods and services to
acquire additional net foreign reserves), and the global supply can be
increased without the need for a current account (or trade) deficit by the
issuing country. These are formidable advantages.

Getting from here to there will take more than additional
allocations of SDRs, though that would be part of the evolution. Most central
bank reserve transactions are not with other central banks. They are with the
market. The Peoples Bank of China buys dollars in the foreign exchange market
(i.e. from banks and other foreign exchange dealers) and uses them to buy U.S.
government securities in American markets (not from the U.S. Treasury directly).
Thus the acceptance and growth of the “official” SDR (those allocated to
central banks by the IMF) will require the development of private ones (private
SDR denominated financial instruments) and mechanisms for linkages between the
private and the official ones.[15]
This was the path followed by the Euro (and its predecessor the Ecu).[16]

The extent to which the world chooses to hold and deal in
SDRs rather than dollars will reflect the extent to which individuals and
governments are more confident in the valuation of the SDR than the dollar or
other possible units and the convenience (cost) of dealing in the asset. The
world has changed its reserve currencies from time to time to align with the
dominant economic power of the time, but such changes have always been gradual.
If the SDR catches on, its displacement of the dollar would also be gradual,
taking place over many years of growing use.

An important advantage of an international currency like the
SDR emphasized by People’s Bank Governor Xiaochuan is that the U.S. would be
subject to much stronger market pressure (in the form of exchange rate
adjustments) that would maintain better balance between imports and exports
than is now the case. The U.S. would also face far less risk of the central
banks of the world losing confidence in the dollar and sharply reducing their
willingness to hold them. As the SDR does not and is not likely ever to exist
in currency form, the U.S., and increasingly the E.U. are likely to continue to
enjoy the seigniorage profits from selling their currency to the citizens of the
rest of the world.


Warren Coats, “The SDR as a Means of Payment,”
IMF Staff Papers, Vol. 29, No. 3
(September 1982) (reprinted in Spanish in Centro de Estudios Monetarios
Latinoamericanos Boletin, Vol. XXIX, Numero 4, Julio–Agosto de 1983).

“SDRs and their Role in the International Financial System,” International Banking and Global Financing, proceedings of a Conference held at Pace University, New York City, May 1983.

With William J. Byrne, “The Special Drawing Right:  Composite Currencies: SDR, ECU, and Other Instruments,” Euromoney, 1984.

With Jacob Gons, Thomas Leddy, and Pierre van den Boogaerde,
“A Comparative Analysis of the Functions of the ECU and the SDR,” in The Role of the SDR in the International Monetary System, Occasional Paper No. 51 (Washington, D.C., IMF) (March 1987).

“Enhancing the Attractiveness of the SDR,” World Development, Vol. 18, No. 7 (July 1990).

With Reinhard W. Furstenberg and Peter Isard, “The Use of the SDR System and the Issue of Resource Transfers?,” Essays in International Economics, International Finance Section, Department of Economics, Princeton University, No. 180 (Dec. 1990).

“Developing a Market for the Official SDR,” Current Legal Issues Affecting Central Banks, Volume 1, International Monetary Fund (Washington, D.C.) May 1992.

“In Search of a Monetary Anchor: Commodity Standards Reexamined,” in Framework for Monetary Stability, ed. by T. J. Baliño and C. Cottarelli , (Washington: International Monetary Fund, 1994).

Dmitry A. Medvedev, “Building Russian–U.S. Bonds” The Washington Post, March 31, 2009, Page A17.

Zhou Xiaochuan, “Reform the International Monetary System”, Website of the Peoples Bank of China, March 23, 2009.

[1] The net inflow or outflow
of currency also reflects income from foreign investments and gifts
(remittances and aid) to or from abroad and is referred to as the current
account balance (deficit or surplus) of the country with the rest of the world.

[2] Actually the more relevant
concept is the more comprehensive “current account balance,” which adds
investment income flows, remittances, and aid.

[3] The U.S. enjoys the
seigniorage (profit) from producing the world’s reserve currency, but carries
the risks if it does not fulfill its responsibility to manage the dollar’s
external value. Because of this loss of domestic control over monetary policy,
the Bundesbank strongly discouraged external use of its revered deutschemark.

[4] “The U.S. net international
investment position at year end 2008 was -$3,469.2 billion….” U.S. entities
owned assets abroad valued at $19,888.2 billion and foreigners owned assets in
the U.S. valued at
$23,357.4 billion.  The
U.S. current account deficit peaked at $804 billion in 2006 dropping back
somewhat to $706 billion in 2008. (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)

[5] Warren Coats, “The D E Fs of the
Financial Markets Crisis”
CATO Institute, September 26, 2008.
“The Big Bailout–What Next?”,
CATO Institute, October 3, 2008

[6] Currently, many speculators
borrow dollars at extremely low interest rates in the U.S. and convert them
into foreign currency investments with higher interest rates. The return on
their investment is even higher than the interest rate differential if the
dollar is expected to depreciate over the life of the investment. This outflow
depreciates the dollar, but the Fed is reluctant to raise interest rates to
reduce this activity and defend the dollar, because it would undercut its domestic
policy of encouraging aggregate demand.

[7] Zhou Xiaochuan, “Reform the International Monetary System”, Website of the Peoples Bank of
China, March 23, 2009.

[8] Dmitry A. Medvedev, “Building Russian–U.S. Bonds” The
Washington Post
, March 31, 2009, Page A17.

[9] The SDR interest rate is also determined daily on the basis of three-month government securities with the same weights as the currency basket.

[10] Each new allocation is added to all previous ones and the total is called the “net cumulative

[11] The complex issues surrounding a so called “substitution account” focus on the possibility of
substituting SDRs for dollars in existing reserve holdings.

[12] This describes a relative
imbalance rather than a global shortage of reserves. If as now the world were
in recession or suffering a global shortage of reserves (which would otherwise
require a global deflation to overcome) the IMF’s members could authorize a
further allocation of SDRs as the G20 recommended earlier in 2009.

[13] A relatively simple change
in the rules of the gold standard might have saved it. Its essential feature of
market regulation of the money supply depends on the fixed exchange rate with
the value of a given quantity of gold, not actually exchanging it for gold
itself. See Warren Coats “In Search of a Monetary Anchor: Commodity Standards Reexamined”
in Frameworks for monetary stability: policy issues and country experiences, Edited
by Tomás J. T. Baliño, Carlo Cottarelli, International Monetary Fund, 1994.

[14] The SDR’s value could also
be fixed to gold, as it was initially, or to baskets of commodities, or goods
and services. See Coats, 1994.

[15] Coats, 1990.

[16] Coats, Gons, Leddy, and van
den Boogaerde, 1987.

Afghan National Army

One of the more annoying things we all tend to do is toss
out suggestions that our government do this or that without the slightest clue
what might be involved or even whether it is possible. Here are a few examples
of the thinking I am talking about.

The government should
be able to spot people like Maj. Nidal M. Hasan (the Army psychologist who
murdered and injured dozens of people in Ft Hood) before they go crazy.

Really? How? What would be required and at what cost to our liberties?

We should double the
number of our solders in Afghanistan and really get on top of the Taliban insurgency.

Really? Where will they come from? We have already called up most of our
reserves. How can we equip them properly and build the housing they will need
in Afghanistan (where winters are brutal)? How will they get the training
needed to deal with local Afghans in a way that brings them to our side rather
than turns them into our enemy?

Afghans should defend
themselves. They should quickly expand their Army and we will help train them.

This is a sensible goal, but what would it involve. Our military wants the
Afghan National Army (ANA) of 93,000 to grow to 134,000 over the next year. In a
fascinating discussion of building an effective ANA, Jeff Haynes, a recently
retired Colonel in the United States Marine Corps, argues that the existing ANA
could do the job with better leadership and better equipment. Rapidly expanding
the ANA will only make its weak leadership weaker by spreading it more thinly.
Good military leaders cannot be “produced” with six weeks, or six months (or
even six years) of intensive training. They are not sitting on the self just
waiting to be deployed. Many of the ANA senior leaders reflect their Soviet
training and style. Little is delegated. Promotions often reflect tribal
connections or other forms of favoritism, demoralizing the more capable solders
who then leave for more promising jobs, etc. In short, we are dealing with real
people, leading real lives in the midst of a real history. Change is needed and
change is never quick or easy. More of the same but larger will not do the job.
Col Haynes provides a very knowledgeable understanding of the situation and
offers very specific recommendations. His article is well worth reading:


You might find comments from a Russian friend of mine interesting. He moved to the United States three years ago but his parents still live in Russia.

Dear Alex,

I found the Russian President’s "state of the union" address this week very encouraging. I hope that
he can follow up effectively.



Dear Warren,

 I agree. The speech indeed was very encouraging and optimistic. It was well composed too (and I’m pretty sure was delivered to public in an outstanding and professional manner! Unfortunately I didn’t get to listen to it. But it’s available in Russian as well as in English languages on the Kremlin’s official website:

 Sure enough there was A LOT of psychology involved. Whoever put it all together did a great job. Russians heard exactly what they wanted to hear. For example, in the first few minutes of the "address" Mr. Medvedev briefly mentioned two major disasters that the nation had faced during the year 2009 – the financial crisis and the Georgian conflict (or "…the barbaric attack on South Ossetia"). Immediately he puts the blame for all that on the government of the USA! Now tell me if it isn’t the best way to win the support of the majority of Russian population, which (due to either the lack of education or plain jealousy or even both at the same time) still express negativity towards the U.S. … and what a shame that is!!

Shame on the people for being so ignorant. Shame on the government for taking advantage of the fact instead of trying to fix it. The good thing is the situation has improved over the past several years.

 Well, anyways… How did I end up discussing politics again? I generally try to avoid that. Last time my neighbor and I were discussing politics we got carried away just to find ourselves in the midst of a conversation at three o’clock in the morning on my porch 🙂

Have a great weekend!


Comments on my November 3 Afghanistan Note

As always many of my friends have made interesting comments
on my latest note on Afghanistan. I start with an exchange with an Afghan
friend, which was not a response to my November 3 note. He is a business student
in Kabul and I omit his name for security reasons.

November 2, 2009

Dear Sir,

Nowadays there might be some unexpected changes in our

Hamid Karzai has won the first election and the American
government would like to renounce the election process. So, the people of our
country are of the view that the America government is making Karzai accept the
conditions they are giving him in order to stay more in Afghanistan and to
follow up or achieve their long term goals and strategy.

Our people are very concern about Swine Flu, which is
nowadays seen in Afghanistan; therefore government announced Holliday for 15
days in Afghanistan for All schools and Universities.

Your friend,



Dear XXXX,

Thanks for your reply. It was not the American government
that "renounce the election process", but Abdullah
Abdullah and hundreds of Afghans who submitted complaints to the UN Electoral
Complaints Commission. That Commission, headed by a Canadian (I had dinner with
him at the Canadian Embassy), investigated all serious complaints and
recommended throwing out certain ballot boxes as a result of its finding. This
reduced Mr. Karzai’s votes to less than fifty percent. The American government
pressured Mr. Karzai and the Afghan election board appointed by President
Karzai to accept the findings of the UN Commission.

Do you think that President Karzai’s government is effect
and reasonably honest?



Dear Sir,

You are absolutely right; the situation I have discussed is
what the people think.

As I am here; and had contact with different people of our
regions, before starting the election process Mr. Abdullah Abdullah spent a lot
of money in 34 province of Afghanistan to win the election as well as Hamid
Karzai with the groups of his party Ministers, commanders and elders like Rasool
Sayaaf, Fahim Qaseem, Kareem Khalili, Mohaqeq, Dostom and others who are
nowadays working in good positions and spent a lot of money (like a billion
dollars) to win the election process for Hamid Karzai. They have even given
bribes in the election branches in the provinces.

Actually, all these elders are working for the benefits of
different countries.

For your question regarding Karzai: We have more than 5
ethnic groups like Pashtons have 60% of the population, Tajik have 25% of the population
and living in the north who have most of key positions in government (ministries
and Parliament), Hazara have 10% and karzai pays attention to them because most
of the votes karzai got in the previous election were from Hazara, Uzbak and
others. Hamid Karzai has given government positions mostly to the Tajik and
Hazara, which is causing these bad war situations

Pashton People are 60% of the population and mostly
live in the west and most of our presidents were from that province of
Kandahar. So people think they know better about how to run the
government. And because of that they have given their vote to Karzai, as I
think Karzai is better than Abdullah but the people who are nowadays
working together with him are not good and they are the big Mafia even in
neighboring countries.




Dear Warren, I agree with most of what you bring forward,
and who am I, sitting here safely behind my desk in The Hague…

But the one question that keeps buzzing me is what do we do
after we leave and the Taliban takes over again?


René (former Economics Minister of the Royal Netherlands
Embassy in Washington DC)



Seems persuasive to me.

This is really radical, but in the long run I think that the
borders in that area should be redrawn by secession to reflect ethnic nations.
The problem is there are too many nationalities and (thanks to the Brits) not
enough states.  The Pashtuns, Baluches and Sinds in the long run like the
Kurds should have their own countries.  Why not?  Slovenia and Serbia
and Croatia are no longer part of Yugoslavia, Azerbaijan and Kazahkstan are no
longer part of the USSR.  We Americans used to favor national
independence, but since we became the hegemon we view all natural divorces as
leading to “instability” and thus we have committed ourselves to trying to
create artificial countries in order to preserve borders drawn by long-dead
British, French and Russian imperial administrators. 

This is heresy, but I am convinced I will be vindicated in
the long run.  I don’t believe that Pakistan or Afghanistan will exist in
2100; there will be more countries where there now are two.  China is an
ethnic nation-state (minus Tibet and Xiinjiang) but I’m not sure India can
survive as an entity forever. 

Michael Lind (New America Foundation, Washington DC whose
latest book is The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the
American Way of Life



Afghanistan – Now What?

The Afghan economy has been growing rapidly for over the
last five years.[1] Security
over the past few years has been deteriorating almost as fast. I no longer
think it is possible to “win,” the “war” in Afghanistan by any reasonable
definition of what winning might mean.

As General McChrystal has rightly said, one of the essential
components of “winning” is a credible and minimally effective government for
NATO forces to support. Even doubling or tripling NATO forces to 400,000 or
600,000 would fall far short of what is needed to provide reasonable security
throughout Afghanistan, if they are not supported and assisted by the vast
majority of Afghans. I think that the General’s counterinsurgency strategy is
broadly right (though success or failure is always in the details), but the
conditions he lists as essential do not exist and are falling further and
further short by the day (the run off of Presidential election is now likely to
involve just one candidate—making even more transparent what was already a

To defeat the Taliban (there are hardly any Al Qaeda left in
Afghanistan) most Afghans must side with and assist the alternative to the
Taliban. But the Kabul government of President Karzai is as much the enemy to
many Afghans as is the Taliban. Recent electoral developments hold out almost
no hope that this will change in the foreseeable future. If this assessment is
correct, NATO’s best course is to pull back (perhaps to assist Afghan police defend
the major cities) now rather than later. We should cut our losses and prepare
our departure.

Those of us at the IMF preparing in November and December
2001 for the aftermath of the NATO invasion of Afghanistan were dismayed that
the conference in Bonn Germany in December 2001 that produced the Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in
Afghanistan Pending the Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Institutions,
to impose a centralized political structure on Afghanistan. Rather than
building on existing traditions of village and tribal governance, the West
imposed a “strong” centralized structure on what have become an unwilling
people. The level of corruption increased significantly under this structure.
For example, villagers cannot rely on fair and honest resolution of disputes
from the often corrupt officials appointed by the Karzai government for its own
political purposes. The Taliban often offer what these people need even if they
also bring with them a narrow and sever version of Sharia law (canonical interpretations
of the teachings of the Koran). Many villagers turn to the Taliban as the
lesser of evils. How can we expect our solders, however honorable and brave, to
“win” the support of the Afghan people in these circumstances (i.e., as
defenders of the Karzai government)?

Plans to establish and train a large Afghan Army seem to be
cut from the same mold. Who are the invaders the Army is to fight? The Taliban
are Afghans. The Afghan government will NEVER be able to finance such a large
Army. Afghanistan needs well trained and honest policemen more than solders. We
should stop disarming villagers and allow them to defend themselves from the
Taliban insurgents. Unlike an Army, village militia can return to producing
things when they do not need to fight. What we have been trying to do in
Afghanistan reflects big governments trying to impose big government approaches
on a country with a long history of more decentralized village and tribal
structures. If we want to support “modernizers,” we should at least try to
build up from the people rather than trying to cram something down on them from
the top. Most Afghans are illiterate. Let’s train teachers. We have built a lot
of classrooms but there are not nearly enough teachers to use them. The statist
mentality is hard to keep in check. Our superb military is a reflection of and
an instrument of that mentality. We need to use it more sparingly and

Our mission in Afghanistan has expanded dramatically from
our initial goal of degrading Al Qaeda and punishing the Taliban government
that harbored them. Our current mission, still under review by President Obama,
has become unrealistic and far too costly to serve American interests. Those of
us who want to help the Afghan people, and it is a goal the international
community should accept, should do so without the intervention of foreign

David Ignatius, whose opinions I highly respect, presents
the opposite case in "On
the War’s Front Lines"
, The
Washington Post
, Oct 30, 2009,  

[1] Robert B.
Zoellick, "What
We Can Achieve in Afghanistan"
, The
Washington Post,
October 30, 2009.