Members of the International Monetary Fund emerged from their huddle in Washington last weekend resolved to keep every option open to slow the flood of dollars pouring into their countries, including capital controls. That's a dangerous game, given the need for investment to drive economic development. But it's also increasingly typical of the world's reaction to America's mismanagement of the dollar and its eroding financial leadership.
The dollar is the world's reserve currency, and as such the Federal Reserve is the closest thing we have to a global central bank. Yet for at least a decade, and especially since late 2008, the Fed has operated as if its only concern is the U.S. domestic economy.
The Fed's relentlessly easy monetary policy combined with Congress's reckless spending have driven investors out of the United States and into Asia, South America and elsewhere in search of higher returns and more sustainable growth. The IMF estimates that between the third quarter of 2009 and second quarter of 2010, Turkey saw a 6.9% inflow in capital as a percentage of GDP, South Africa 6.6%, Thailand 5%, and so on.
This incoming wall of money puts the central bankers in these countries in a bind. If they do nothing, the result can be asset bubbles and inflation. Brazil (6.3%) and China (5.4% officially but no doubt higher in fact) are both enduring bursts of inflation, as are many other countries. These nations can raise interest rates or let their own currencies appreciate, at the risk of slower economic growth. Rather than endure that adjustment, many countries are resorting to capital controls and other administrative measures to try to stop the inflow.
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