frankel135_KAZUHIRO NOGIAFP via Getty Images_exchange rate KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

Get Ready for Reverse Currency Wars

With elevated global inflation likely to persist for some time, the prospect of competitive exchange-rate appreciations is looming larger. Instead of a race to the bottom in the currency market, there may be a scramble to the top – and poorer countries will likely suffer the most.

CAMBRIDGE – The US dollar is up 12% against the euro over the past year and, at €0.93, is approaching parity. If prices of oil and other commodities now seem high in dollar terms, they look even higher in euros. With the greenback surging, and inflation in many countries currently at multi-decade highs, we may be entering so-called “reverse currency wars” – in which countries compete to strengthen their currencies’ foreign-exchange values.

The term “currency wars” was originally a colorful description of what international economists had long called “competitive devaluations” or, after exchange rates began to float in the early 1970s, “competitive depreciations.” In these situations, countries feel aggrieved that their trading partners are deliberately pursuing policies to weaken their own currencies in order to gain an unfair advantage in international trade. Competitive depreciation can arise when all countries’ main macroeconomic goals, in addition to maximizing GDP growth and employment, include improving their trade balances. This generally describes the past few decades in the world economy.

A reverse currency war, on the other hand, involves competitive appreciation. Here, countries think their trading partners are deliberately trying to strengthen their currencies in order to rein in inflation. This could describe the period that began in 2021, when inflation returned as a serious problem in most countries.

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