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From Dollar to e-SDR

The rise of cryptocurrencies has created a unique opportunity for market forces to spearhead a shift toward a truly neutral reserve asset. With the leadership of the US – the issuer of the main international reserve currency – more unpredictable than ever, it is an opportunity that should not be missed.

HONG KONG – As the risk of a US-China trade war mounts, creating a geopolitically neutral and fair monetary system has become increasingly urgent. The shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world order has not been particularly orderly. Instead, it has produced a kind of monetary non-system that depends on a debt-driven, dollar-based model that is too pro-cyclical, fragile, and potentially biased to support the management of trade conflict.

At the root of the problem are the structural trade and current-account imbalances that arise from the so-called Triffin dilemma: in order to meet global demand for the US dollar as a reserve currency, the United States must run persistent current-account deficits with the rest of the world. Last year, that deficit reached $474 billion, or 2.4% of US GDP.

To be sure, the guarantee that the US, as the issuer of the dominant international reserve currency, can acquire low-cost funding for its fiscal deficit and national debt amounts to what former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing famously called America’s “exorbitant privilege.” But that privilege can erode the country’s fiscal discipline, as it has in recent years, resulting in high federal deficits ($833 billion, or 4.2% of GDP, in2018) and growing federal debt ($21 trillion, or 104% of GDP, as of March).

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