During the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, the idea of a world currency played a major role in the main plans for a post-war monetary order. The British plan, especially Keynes' plan, provided for the world currency bancor . The official American plan, especially White's plan , also contained the idea of a world currency called "Unitas". However, the American negotiators rejected the idea of securing the US dollar 's supremacy in the international monetary system.
The current monetary system has been considered to have sparked the technical discussion on a world currency since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1973. It provides the framework for international cash flows , defines the rules for exchange rate regimes and relies on institutions such as the IMF to monitor the system and secure. In the specialist literature, the current monetary system is often described as "non-system", as there is almost complete freedom in choosing the exchange rate regime thanks to a few binding rules. As a result, there may be strong exchange rate fluctuations between national currencies. Associated with this are far-reaching, also negative consequences for the economic development of many countries and regions. According to various economists, this “non-system” does not allow enough emphasis on reducing global imbalances.
Among the most prominent advocates of global currency include former chairman of the Federal Reserve , Paul Volcker and Nobel laureate Robert Mundell . Due to the great concerns of many economists, such as Nobel laureates in economics, Milton Friedman and Paul Krugman , but mainly due to a lack of political support, the introduction of a world currency in the coming years and decades seems almost impossible.
Approaches to a world currency
Since the beginning of the 19th century, the international gold standard has increasingly existed in emerging western nations , so that one can speak of it as the first internationally valid currency system with partial gold backing of paper money . However, even during the time of the gold standard, economists like Walter Bagehot developed the desire to improve the system in order to save useless information and transaction costs that arose in international trade .
According to the American economist and Harvard professor Richard N. Cooper , proposals to strengthen the role of gold in the monetary system regularly meet with a large audience in economically unfavorable conditions . The proposals for re-establishing the role of gold in monetary policy cover a wide range, from the re-establishment of gold as a currency reserve to the full-blown restoration of a gold currency. The idea behind the proposal of gold as a new currency reserve is to limit the growth of the money supply . However, in Cooper's view, these currency reserves do not offer monetary policy discipline in the economies concerned . As an example, he cites the United States , which officially backed its reserves with gold from 1900 until the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1973, with most of the time the gold reserve requirements were non-binding.
The goals of the advocates of a growing monetary policy role for gold are to restore and maintain price stability , since in their opinion gold currency reserves could no longer lead to inflationary developments . According to Cooper, some of the proponents see the re-establishment of gold as a practicable way to restore fixed exchange rates between currencies, especially the leading currencies . However, prices did not remain stable during the gold standard in the 19th century, but varied with the rate of growth of gold deposits. If gold did not rise sufficiently, prices were forced to fall, says Cooper. Furthermore, the price level was only stable insofar as the trading conditions between gold and other goods remained stable. In conclusion from his historical analysis, Richard N. Cooper does not see the gold standard as a forward-looking approach to a world currency.
Key currencies with the potential to become a world currency
The US dollar has been by far the most important international currency since the end of World War II . It plays an important role in the functioning of the current world monetary system. The increasing importance of the dollar as a key and reserve currency and as a global currency approach is known as dollarization .
“Dollarization” means the introduction and use of the US dollar as a replacement for one's own national currency. According to Myron Frankman, this process can lead to an upswing in the country concerned, which leads to stable economic relationships such as the avoidance of currency crises and inflation as well as closer integration. However, he believes it is just as likely that deflation , unemployment and political tension will follow. Developing and emerging countries in particular , which had long struggled with high inflation and persistent macroeconomic imbalances, chose to use the dollar as a substitute or as a booking and trading unit alongside their domestic currency. In the mid-1990s, global demand for the dollar was so strong that 2/3 of the newly issued dollars were exported. Some countries "dollarized" officially, for example by creating an exchange rate arrangement , such as Argentina from 1992 to 2001, or by abolishing the domestic currency and completely replacing it with the dollar, as in Ecuador and El Salvador . In addition, most countries make significant use of the dollar as they also use it as the national currency in traditional monetary functions . Thus, these countries can be described as "partially dollarized".
Many economists also attribute significant growth potential to the recently second most important reserve currency, the euro . The data collected by the IMF show that the euro as a common currency attracts significantly more official investors than the previous national currencies combined. The clear improvement of 7½ percentage points in 1999 compared to the previous currency basket from 1998, illustrates two aspects according to the IMF.
- First, the development is consistent with the theory that more than one important investment and reserve currency can exist at any given time. In connection with this, the importance of the euro as an international reserve currency is also increasing.
- Second, the development confirms the predictions of significant diversification effects .
Around 650 million people live in the euro area or in countries whose currencies are closely linked to the euro. This number already includes the 157 million people in the CFA Franc countries of West and Equatorial Africa , whose currencies are very closely related to the euro and are secured by the French Treasury. According to Martha A. Starr, Europe showed itself with the introduction of the euro that it really intended and is able to take on the challenges of a monetary union . Not only the relatively similar Western European countries are involved , but also the Central and Eastern European countries , which were formerly socialist . According to the prevailing opinion, this project is seen as a model for a monetary union through different economies and as an example of a broader monetary system. In his specialist article The role of the IMF: A guide to the reports , published in 2000, John Williamson suggests including some experience from the euro zone in the reform of the global monetary system. He finds the Maastricht fiscal criteria for prequalification criteria of states to a world currency as exemplary . The Economist also made a statement in its article One world, one money. 1998 very optimistic about the development of the euro. Should the euro establish itself successfully over a longer period of time, the idea of a global monetary union will appear much more interesting.
Special drawing rights approach
Starting with the Belgian-American economist Robert Triffin , the IMF introduced the Special Drawing Right, or SDR for short, as a new reserve asset at the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1969. Thus, for the first time in monetary history, an instrument was created that created currency reserves on the basis of international agreements. SDR itself is not a currency, but fulfills the characteristic of a unit of account and currently consists of a currency basket comprising 44% US dollars, 34% euros and 11% each of yen and pound sterling. So far, the SDR has only been accepted to a limited extent as a reserve currency, as it only represents a claim to foreign exchange. It thus only makes up a small proportion of the central banks' reserve portfolios . The current situation is supported by the allocation modalities. The IMF countries that joined the SDR is currently only in its edition assigned. Furthermore, only central banks and state institutions act on SDRs, private actors are currently excluded.
However, according to various economists, SDRs have the potential to follow John Maynard Keynes ' vision as an artificial currency or unit of account . In their view, one advantage of the SDR would be control by a supranational institution, such as the IMF. With a new currency order based on SDRs, the individual reserve currency countries would have new options for exchange rate policy to adjust to economic imbalances. Requirements for these changes would be a realignment of the IMF's tasks and capital acquisition by transferring national currency reserves to the IMF. Furthermore, the trading volume of the SDR would have to be increased significantly. SDRs can also be used in international trade for financial transactions by creating a settlement system between the SDR and the individual currencies. However, the disadvantage is that the SDR as a currency basket is subject to constant fluctuations in terms of the exchange rate to the currencies of the individual basket participants, including the member countries. The distribution of responsibility for increasing SDRs on a global scale would also be problematic. In Friedrich August von Hayek's opinion , only a political “multilateralization” of money creation would develop, from which no less inflation than from the USA and its US dollar would be expected. At the moment, however, many of the stated goals and hopes for the SDR can also be met simply through a balanced reserve currency basket, so that, according to the prevailing opinion, the SDR will not gain significantly in importance.
Positions on a world currency
In the context of the theory of optimal currency areas , economists discuss the pros and cons of merging currency areas . Many influential economists such as Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs are very skeptical of the idea of a world currency. Others like Robert Mundell , Robert Barro, and at certain times The Economist see world currency as an excellent idea that minimizes the extent to which fluctuating monetary values disrupt the world economy. The Economist explicitly dealt with the issue of world currency in 1988.
Since the Bretton Woods conference
As early as 1943, John Maynard Keynes advocated in his work, "Proposals for an International Clearing Union", in German an international clearing union that should function as the world central bank. This should ensure the stability and integrity of the international payment and currency system and issue a new monetary unit, i.e. a world currency. The designation of this world currency was of secondary importance for Keynes, whereby he used the term “bancor” in particular in his remarks. According to Keynes' proposal, however, the “bancor” should not replace the national currencies, but rather serve as a payment instrument in international transactions.
According to the prevailing opinion, the so-called Triffin dilemma has played a crucial role in diagnosing problems in the monetary system since the Bretton Woods conference. The theory was named after Robert Triffin. He published it in his 1959 book: Gold and the Dollar Crisis . The Triffin dilemma states, on the one hand, that if the US corrects its large trade deficit , the rest of the world would suffer enormous liquidity shortages. On the other hand, if the US fails to make up its deficit, it would no longer be able to peg its dollar currency to gold, which would trigger a global crisis of confidence in the monetary system.
Robert Triffin describes the system of flexible exchange rates and liberalized financial markets that has existed since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 as "non-system". The reasons for this are that poor countries are increasingly oppressed by this system, which concentrates profits in the hands of the few and is characterized by a lack of attention by politicians in adjusting exchange rates.
The proposal developed by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s to introduce a transaction tax to direct speculative financial flows has been taken up by several economists. James Tobin expanded this idea in his worldwide uniform (steering) tax, proposed in 1972, to include speculative international foreign exchange transactions , the so-called Tobin tax . In fact, Tobin also preferred a world currency with supporting institutions over such a tax. He recommends the latter, however, as a world currency still seems a long way off to him.
In order to consider the prospects of a world monetary system, some economists think it makes sense to combine specific drafts with current assumptions about optimal, institutional arrangements for monetary policy. This is intended to make the decision-making process acceptable to the public. Harvard Professor Richard Cooper published such a draft in 1984 in his article A monetary system for the future . Cooper's vision was decidedly long-term and influential to other economists. He did not expect a world monetary system within the next 25 years after the article was published. However, he suspected that the time for world currency will come as the need exists in an increasingly global financial market . In his design, he developed a broad-based monetary union, which is essentially shaped by advanced, western industrial nations and thus attracts a growing number of participating countries. At the heart of this monetary system would be a supranational monetary authority responsible for issuing the currency and guiding monetary policy. In addition to the US dollar, Cooper could also consider a completely new currency. The monetary authority's decision-making body would consist of representatives of the participating countries who would be accountable to their governments. According to Cooper, the distribution of votes for the representatives of the new body could be divided according to the size of the GDP of the participating countries. The monetary authority would thus receive the core mandates of a world central bank in order to maintain macroeconomic stability and defuse liquidity problems. However, Cooper also notes that opportunities for bank and government failure remain. In his opinion, however, the adoption of a world currency would make it more difficult for one country to solve financial problems by artificially devaluing the currency and exporting them to other countries.
Since the new economy
With the New Economy at the end of the 1990s, various well-known economists discussed ideas of a movement towards a world currency. Robert Mundell wrote in his 1995 work, The International Monetary System: The Missing Factor , that the missing component in the current international monetary order is a world currency. As long as this does not exist, according to Mundell the existing order remains only the “second best solution”.
Robert Barro, American economist and economist, developed the idea of a streamlined, dollar-based monetary system for the western hemisphere in Let the Dollar Reign From Seattle to Santiago , published in 1999 . He argues that the use of a world currency would eliminate major causes of previous economic crises, such as strong exchange rate fluctuations in the financial markets due to currency devaluations. For him, binding regulations on the use of the lender of last resort function are decisive in order to prevent moral risk and potential for abuse.
According to Arthur Grimes, there will be no economic counter-pressure to reestablish national currencies after a move towards a world currency. He describes the reason for this in the explanations of his specialist commentary Case for a World Currency: Is an ANZAC Dollar a Logical Step? from 2000. He sees the great advantage of a world currency in the greatly reduced transaction costs and the possibilities of doing business with any partner worldwide, regardless of their location.
Myron Frankman also sees the named advantages of dollarization in the introduction of a world currency. He published his remarks in the specialist article Beyond the Tobin Tax: Global Democracy and a Global Currency 2002. This would mean there would be no need for time-consuming exchange rate negotiations, compromises or new institutions. In his opinion, a world currency should be the result of a shared commitment and effort to create a global, democratic federalism . For Frankman, expanding the free trade domain and free markets is also a very important global project. He sees the real goal of eliminating income inequalities and free trade as the means to achieve this goal. In his opinion, an established world currency would achieve this goal, since it implies free cross-border trade.
In his specialist article The case for a world currency 2005, Robert Mundell extends his 1995 remarks. This article begins, however, with the approach of stabilized exchange rates between the US dollar, the euro and the Japanese yen , on the basis of which a world currency called "Intor" was to be gradually developed. A basket of currencies with fixed components would be formed from these three key currencies, the unit of which Mundell calls “DEY”, for dollar-euro-yen. He is hoping for a multiple currency union from the Federal Reserve Bank , the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank , which defines a fixed exchange rate area with a common monetary policy. After the successful establishment of the “DEY”, according to Mundell, a so-called “Council of Ministers of the IMF” could vote for the gradual introduction of the world currency “Intor”.
In its article One world, one money, The Economist sees the advantages of a world currency in openness in trade and in the freedom of movement of production factors . Fluctuating exchange rates destabilize international trade and investment by removing relative prices from their fundamental value. In the crises of the 1990s, strong exchange rate movements were not a dampener, but an accelerator and one of the causes. One solution would be to combine the increasing integration of countries in world trade with a fixing of exchange rates, which, according to The Economist, means a single global monetary union.
Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said: “ A global economy needs a global currency. "(German:" A world economy needs a world currency. ")
The American professor of economics, Paul Krugman, moves away from the idea of a world currency in his 1999 work Monomoney Mania: Why fewer currencies aren't necessarily better . In his opinion, the efforts to consolidate the currency towards a world currency are only an “intellectual quirk”, since he considers a variety of healthy currencies to be more economically advanced.
Even Milton Friedman sees the expectations of a world currency as a "monstrosity". His stance is based on his expectations in the 2001 article One World, One Money? . Control over such a world currency lies only in the hands of a "small group of unelected officials who are not held accountable for their actions in any election".
In his work Why dollarization is more straitjacket than salvation , published in 2002, the American economist Jeffrey Sachs advocates the opinion that developing countries should keep their own national currency. One of the main reasons he cites the historical experience of these countries, which gave up their currency for the dollar, for example, and thus suffered greater economic damage than advantages.
Factors for a world currency status
The IMF identifies five main factors, so-called "facilitating factors" or FF, for an international status of a currency. Since a world currency must have reached this stage in order to be recognized as such, the FF are also applicable to them.
Presentation of the factors
- Size of the economy
International currencies are mostly associated with large, competitive economies, especially those with extensive trade and financial ties. Such an economy creates large markets in foreign trade, and it is just as strongly represented in domestic markets. The construction and maintenance of a suitable information network is associated with high costs, but the large market volume of this dominant economy also reduces its transaction costs.
- Sophisticated financial system
International currencies are also mostly associated with open, liquid and highly developed financial systems. These increase the attractiveness of the currency in at least three ways: First, they offer participants in international markets deep and liquid secondary markets for collateral. Second, they continue to offer a wide range of ancillary services for participants in international markets. Third, a sophisticated financial system will also attract foreign business. This possibility makes it easier for market participants to invest or borrow capital in an international currency and to convert the proceeds into domestic currencies.
- Confidence in the value of the currency
International currencies are also held as valuable reserves. Furthermore, an international currency whose future value for goods and services is stable must be regarded as sound. Trust in a currency is also indirectly decisive for its function as a removable medium.
- Political stability
This factor is particularly important for economists from a historical perspective. According to Robert Mundell, a currency becomes worthless when the issuing state collapses. Currency unions that emerged from political unions can be viewed as more stable in historical terms.
- Network of external effects
The phenomenon of the external effects of a network is often associated with international currencies, with these increasing in value the greater their worldwide use. The larger the user network, the more attractive the world currency becomes for the individual user. The demand-side economies benefit from the increased liquidity of the currency, which results from the growing network, which contains more potential counter-offers, which also increases the likelihood of a quick and successful resale. Such a development is self-reinforcing and would lead to a relatively rapid spread of the world currency, strengthen it and at the same time weaken competing key currencies.
Transfer of the factors to a world currency
If you look at the size of the economy, then a world currency would have to emerge from one of the major key currencies or from their combination. In his work The Dollar and the Euro , published in 1997, Fred Bergsten states that the EU accounts for 31 percent of world production and 20 percent of world trade , excluding intra-European transactions. In return, the United States generates 27 percent of world production and 18 percent of world trade. A world currency could be established on the basis of the dollar and euro currencies and possibly in conjunction with the Japanese yen and the British pound sterling. The markets of these economies also have highly developed financial systems with very advanced information networks. Added to this is the political stability, which in the case of the United States and the European Union is constitutionally or contractually regulated between the individual states and which has proven itself historically. Furthermore, a world currency itself would only retain its value if it was used by the largest possible number of economies or market participants. This aspect would also be fulfilled for a world currency based on the current key currencies.
Evaluation of the idea of a world currency
According to the IMF Working Paper by Ewe-Ghee Lim, the use of a single currency would be much more efficient than the circulation of different currencies. The efficiency gains would be achieved in two ways. On the one hand, leading transactions through a currency would involve fewer foreign exchange markets, which significantly reduces the investment costs in information networks. On the other hand, the transaction volume would grow, since with fewer foreign exchange markets overall, the transaction costs could be further reduced. To explain these advantages, Ronald I. McKinnon gives a good example in his paper The Euro Threat is Exaggerated from 1998:
- Suppose there are N national currencies. Through the bilateral trade between all these currencies N * would (N-1) / 2 bilateral markets emerge. However, if these markets selected only one of the N currencies as the trading currency for all transactions and all exchange rates were quoted, the number of markets would be reduced to only N-1. In a world with 150 national currencies, this change to one (world) currency would mean a reduction in bilateral markets from 11,175 to just 149 and enormous savings in transaction costs. As a result, the transaction volume would grow significantly and the transaction costs would decrease further.
According to Myron Frankman, a world currency with supporting institutions would be an essential part of a global democracy that could create the framework for diversity in all parts of the world. The example of the United States shows that monetary union can turn out to be of great benefit to those involved. The prerequisite for this would be that it is not only based on centralized monetary authorities, but also supported by other institutions.
According to Robert Mundell, even countries that are not involved in a supranational currency would benefit from the stability of exchange rates, since such a currency area could serve as an anchor for other national currencies. Furthermore, a world currency would be the epitome of a social contract in which each member state could exercise a legal claim according to its economic size.
Obstacles and problems
For political reasons, the influential nation states have little interest in giving up their monetary influence or sharing it with other countries. The seigniorage revenues that are then lost play a role here, as does the likely strong increase in the monetary policy weight of emerging and developing countries . Since there is no more political controversy about the issue than economic one, a change in the status quo is not to be expected.
According to Arthur Grimes, there are two reasons why countries today do not want to accept world currency. On the one hand, one's own country has a historically long-term currency. Even more important is the realization that every other country also has a historically long national currency. To date, there is practically no world currency that countries could accept.
According to Myron Frankman, the most attractive prospect for deeper political and economic integration is the preservation and rebuilding of regional diversity and control. The acceptance of a single world currency, however, calls for the renunciation of many national claims, both symbolic and real, so that it will not be viable in the foreseeable future.
According to Gudrun Leichtlein, employee of the Deutsche Bundesbank , the development of a world currency raises big questions. A solid confidence in the value of this currency would be essential for an establishment. In order to achieve this trust, a broad international use of this world currency is required. Furthermore, global liquidity would have to be controlled and an excessive supply of liquidity excluded. An independent world central bank should also be created, which raises enormous political questions, since a consensus on decision-makers is difficult to imagine. She sees the growing of a currency into the role of world currency as a very lengthy process. First of all, an increasing use of this currency is required in one area in order to give it an additional boost in its use. However, individual areas of application are not isolated from one another, but are mutually dependent and supportive. Ultimately, the market participants would decide on the use of a world currency.
Instead, economists consider the formation of regional currency blocks (a dollar block in North and South America and in the Pacific region, a euro block in Europe and Africa and an Asian currency block) to be more likely.
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