Joan Miro The farmer’s wife 1923
In Jackson Hole on Friday, Bank of England’s outgoing governor Mark Carney talked about a Synthetic Hegemonic Currency (SHC) that the world ‘must’ create, and I thought: that sounds as creepy as anything Halloween. Now, Carney is a central banker as well as a former Giant Squid partner, hence a certified cultist, but still.
He even mentioned Facebook’s Libra ‘currency’ as some sort of example for something that should replace the US dollar internationally. And that replacement is allegedly needed because countries are hoarding dollars. And/or “protecting themselves by racking up enormous piles of dollar-denominated debt.” Whichever comes first, I guess?!
I’ve read quite a few comments on Carney’s speech, but far as I’ve seen they all ignore one aspect of it: the current shape and form of globalization. See, Carney can see only one thing: more centralization, more things moving more in the same direction. Remember, he’s the man who with Michael Bloomberg in 2016 wrote “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change”. Aka things are worth doing only if they make you richer.
It’s a state of mind that works fine when you’re inside a system and an echo chamber, when you’re a central banker or a corporate banker. But there’s nothing that indicates it’s a useful state of mind when the system you’re serving must undergo change. What is as true when it comes to climate change as it is for changing the entire global economy. Carney’s got blinders on.
Carney [..] said the problems in the financial system were encouraging protectionist and populist policies. [..] Carney warned that very low equilibrium interest rates had in the past coincided with wars, financial crises and abrupt changes in the banking system. As a first step to reorder the world’s financial system, countries could triple the resources of the IMF to $3 trillion as a better alternative to countries protecting themselves by racking up enormous piles of dollar-denominated debt.
In other words, to reorder the world’s financial system, you must put a ton of money into a fund that has served (and failed) to uphold the old system. Really?
“While such concerted efforts can improve the functioning of the current system, ultimately a multi-polar global economy requires a new IMFS (international monetary and financial system) to realize its full potential,” Carney said. China’s yuan represented the most likely candidate to become a reserve currency to match the dollar, but it still had a long way to go before it was ready. The best solution would be a diversified multi-polar financial system, something that could be provided by technology, Carney said.
There is no doubt that the present system is a little off balance, that the USD’s role in the financial system is way bigger then America’s share of global trade. But the yuan is completely unfit as a reserve currency because it’s not freely traded. And whether “technology” could “provide a diversified multi-polar financial system” (quite the statement) is very much in question. Perhaps that is true in theory, but Carney’s claims are not only about theory -anymore-.
Facebook’s Libra was the most high-profile proposed digital currency to date but it faced a host of fundamental issues that it had yet to address. “As a consequence, it is an open question whether such a new Synthetic Hegemonic Currency (SHC) would be best provided by the public sector, perhaps through a network of central bank digital currencies,” Carney said.
The most fundamental issue about Libra would appear to be that it doesn’t exist. Then there are a whole slew of other issues, like why should Facebook and its partners play any role at all in finance. Because they’re such benign enterprises who focus on guarding your privacy? Why Carney would present it as a potential ‘solution’ is totally unclear, other than Libra is something that could fit inside his echo chamber.
I’m still nervous about crypto, too many things still go wrong, too many thefts, too many things too many people don’t understand. But I would support Bitcoin over Carney’s “network of central bank digital currencies” any day. Because that’s the creepiness of this “Synthetic Hegemonic Currency” in all its infamy.
Carney and his echo chamber banker mates seek control, we get it. But that doesn’t mean we want them to have it. Look at the present system, which they created, and the failure of which necessitates the creation of yet another system. And then they want to control that one too?
But that’s still all a bit of a sideshow. I’m thinking Carney is not just wearing blinders, he’s simple too late. The globalization that his proposals might serve is already past its peak. He may not be able to see beyond it, but we should.
Globalization is a process, it’s something that moves, it can’t stand still. And now that it’s fully reached China, there’s nowhere else for it to go. Sure, there are some smaller countries that might be willing to produce at even lower prices, like Vietnam or Cambodia, but they could never do it at the same scale as China has.
The same goes for Africa. Moving the entire manufacturing capacity to Africa that was transferred from the west to China starting 20-30 years ago, would be such a logistical nightmare nobody would seriously consider it, And so we have come to a standstill. Globalization can no longer move, because it has nowhere to move to. The world is as fully globalized as it ever will be. But globalization is a process.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the only thing it can really do is to move back. For a number of different reasons, I think that’s exactly what will happen. And I don’t think that’s all that bad. Trump is of course already preparing part of that move with his tariffs war. But it can, and I’m quite sure will, go much further.
If globalization only means, and is restricted to, the transfer of manufacturing anything and everything from the US and Europe to China, and that’s what it appears to mean, the drawback for the former(s) is painfully obvious. So is the one for the planet.
It may make sense to produce high end products, like intricate complex electronics, in one location in the world, but why on earth should China produce our underwear? Yeah, they can do it cheaper, sure, but the main effect of that is it kills our jobs. The narrative about this over the past few decades has been that we were building a ‘knowledge economy’ or a ‘service economy’, but that’s a whole lot of BS.
Not only do we now depend on China to make our underwear, all those panties and shorts and shirts have to be hauled halfway across the planet by fossil-fuel-powered behemoth container ships. While we could make them right where we live, pay people a living wage to do it, and lower pollution in the process. Not a hard choice, even if your boxers would cost a dollar more.
And whether you worry about the planet and climate and species extinction or not, enough people do to make it an ever growing factor in decision making on these topics. And there’s more. Henry Ford understood it: people must be paid enough to afford your products if your business is to be successful. The whole “globalization” towards lower wage countries has not only lowered prices in the US and Europe, but also wages.
And that in turn has opened the way towards higher pay for executives, higher stock prices and dividends etc., in other words towards more inequality. Very few people understand the mechanics that drive this, but more of them will and must as their wages become the same as those in China.
So anyway, Mark Carney’s grand Synthetic Hegemonic plans are too little too late. Not that that will keep him from blabbing about them, he represents the ruling classes after all, which are doing just fine and would like to be doing even finer. But even he, and they, cannot deny that globalization is like a shark that dies when it can no longer move. Scary movie title: Globalization Never Sleeps…
And Trump plays his role in this just dandy. Not that he’s the smartest guy around, far from it, but he does recognize how globalization hurts America. And that China, a third world country not long ago, is now perhaps the world’s largest economy and will have to be subject to entirely different rules and scrutiny than in, say, 1980.
China must open up its economy to US and EU products, or the latter must close theirs to what China produces. That’s what the trade war, and/or the currency war, the whole enchilada, is about. And perhaps it needed an elephant like Trump to say it, but that’s not important. The entire world economy has reached the limits of its lopsided-ness , and the imbalance must be fixed. Simple stuff.
I’ve been using underwear as an example, but we all know -or we could- how much of what we purchase daily comes from China. Well, that, too, like globalization, and because of it, has reached its peak. We will make our own underwear again. It that a bad thing? How? Henry Ford would have understood it is not, even if he might have been the first to move his production lines to Shenzhen if he would have had the option.
Ford understood the link between prices and wages, but that knowledge appears to be gone. Except perhaps in China, but their model relies exclusively on exports and that can’t last either. Ford sought to sell his cars to his own workers. Which is just about the very opposite of what today’s financial elites are after, and why Carney wants a -belated- Synthetic Hegemonic Currency.
See the point? I predict Carney and his ilk will propose a cloud-based world currency soon, ‘guaranteed’ by -probably- the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR), but that is totally unfit for the role they have in mind.
Because you don’t need such a currency to pay for the underwear that’s produced by your neighbors just down the road. You only need it for the underwear that comes from China.