Beggaring the World Economy

As low interest rates in industrial countries send capital around the world searching for higher yields, developing and developed countries alike are intervening heavily to keep their currencies from appreciating. But, rather than competing for a slice of shrinking global demand, countries should focus on re-balancing their economies.

CHICAGO – Global capital is on the move. As ultra-low interest rates in industrial countries send capital around the world searching for higher yields, a number of emerging-market central banks are intervening heavily, buying the foreign-capital inflows and re-exporting them in order to keep their currencies from appreciating. Others have been imposing capital controls of one stripe or another. In recent weeks, Japan became the first large industrial economy to intervene directly in currency markets.

Why does no one want capital inflows? Which intervention policies are legitimate, and which are not? And where will all this intervention end if it continues unabated?

The portion of capital inflows that is not re-exported represents net capital inflows. This finances domestic spending on foreign goods. So, one reason countries do not like capital inflows is that it means more domestic demand “leaks” outside. Indeed, because capital inflows often cause the domestic exchange rate to appreciate, they encourage further spending on foreign goods as domestic producers become uncompetitive.

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