The end of the exorbitant privilege?

Ken Rogoff led off his Financial Times column yesterday with the following point:  One of the most extraordinary features of the past month is the extent to which the dollar has remained immune to a once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis. If the US were an emerging market country, its exchange rate would be plummeting and interest rates ...

Ken Rogoff led off his Financial Times column yesterday with the following point:  One of the most extraordinary features of the past month is the extent to which the dollar has remained immune to a once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis. If the US were an emerging market country, its exchange rate would be plummeting and interest rates on government debt would be soaring. Instead, the dollar has actually strengthened modestly, while interest rates on three- month US Treasury Bills have now reached 54-year lows. It is almost as if the more the US messes up, the more the world loves it. But can this extraordinary vote of confidence in the dollar last? Keith Bradsher's latest in the New York Times suggests that the wheel is turning:  Tremors from Wall Street are rattling Asian confidence, leading many investors to question the wisdom of being invested in the United States to the tune of trillions of dollars. Asian investors were starting to show hesitation even before the financial earthquake of the last week. Now, a wariness toward the United States is setting in that is unprecedented in recent memory, reaching from central banks to industrial corporations, from hedge funds to the individuals who lined up here to withdraw money from the American International Group on Wednesday. Asia’s savings have, in essence, bankrolled American spending for decades, and an Asian loss of confidence in American financial institutions and assets would have dire consequences for both the United States government and American taxpayers. The potential for panic is stoked by Asian news organizations, which tend to focus more on business and economics than on politics, which can be touchy here. Their coverage has been obsessive and unrelentingly negative about the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch’s rush to find a buyer and the turmoil at A.I.G. The nonstop deluge of bad publicity for American investments seems to be seeping into the consciousnesses of the rich and middle class across Asia. It seems like official investors are still cooperating with the United States, so the exorbitant privilege might not go away anytime soon.  When the immediacy of the current crisis passes, however, I have to think that this episode is going to linger in the minds of official and private investors for quite some time. 

Ken Rogoff led off his Financial Times column yesterday with the following point: 

One of the most extraordinary features of the past month is the extent to which the dollar has remained immune to a once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis. If the US were an emerging market country, its exchange rate would be plummeting and interest rates on government debt would be soaring. Instead, the dollar has actually strengthened modestly, while interest rates on three- month US Treasury Bills have now reached 54-year lows. It is almost as if the more the US messes up, the more the world loves it. But can this extraordinary vote of confidence in the dollar last?

Keith Bradsher’s latest in the New York Times suggests that the wheel is turning: 

Tremors from Wall Street are rattling Asian confidence, leading many investors to question the wisdom of being invested in the United States to the tune of trillions of dollars. Asian investors were starting to show hesitation even before the financial earthquake of the last week. Now, a wariness toward the United States is setting in that is unprecedented in recent memory, reaching from central banks to industrial corporations, from hedge funds to the individuals who lined up here to withdraw money from the American International Group on Wednesday. Asia’s savings have, in essence, bankrolled American spending for decades, and an Asian loss of confidence in American financial institutions and assets would have dire consequences for both the United States government and American taxpayers. The potential for panic is stoked by Asian news organizations, which tend to focus more on business and economics than on politics, which can be touchy here. Their coverage has been obsessive and unrelentingly negative about the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch’s rush to find a buyer and the turmoil at A.I.G. The nonstop deluge of bad publicity for American investments seems to be seeping into the consciousnesses of the rich and middle class across Asia.

It seems like official investors are still cooperating with the United States, so the exorbitant privilege might not go away anytime soon.  When the immediacy of the current crisis passes, however, I have to think that this episode is going to linger in the minds of official and private investors for quite some time. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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