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by John Browne
The global financial crisis is playing out like a slow-moving, highly predicable stage play. In the current scene, Western governments are caught between the demands of entitled welfare beneficiaries and the anxiety of bondholders who fear they will be stuck with the bill. As the crisis reaches an apex, prime ministers and presidents are forced into a Sophie's choice between social unrest and bankruptcy. But with the "Club Med" economies set to fall like dominoes, the US Treasury market is not yet acting the role we would have anticipated.
Our argument has always been that the US benefits from its reserve-currency status, allowing it to accumulate unsustainable debts for an unusually long period without the immediate repercussions of inflation or higher borrowing costs. But this false sense of security may be setting us up for a truly monumental crash.
There is fresh evidence that time is running out for the dollar-centric global monetary order. In fact, central banks outside the US are already making swift and discrete preparation for a post-dollar era.
To begin, the People's Bank of China has just this week decided to permit a wider trading range between the yuan and the dollar. This is the first step toward ending the infernal yuan-dollar peg. While the impetus behind this abrupt change remains a mystery, I have a sneaking suspicion that, as my colleague Neeraj Chaudhary explained in his commentary last week, the nationwide labor strikes were a prime motivator.
In response to the 2008 credit crunch, the Fed printed so many dollars that the People's Bank of China was forced to drive Chinese inflation into double digits to maintain the peg. The pain has fallen on China's workers, who have seen their wages stagnate while prices for everything from milk to apartments have skyrocketed. This week's move indicates that, regardless of its own policy motives, the Communist Party can no longer afford to keep pace with the dollar's devaluation. The result will be a shift in wealth from America to China, which may trigger a long-anticipated run on the dollar, while creating investment opportunities in China.