The Value of the Dollar Does Not Tell Us About the Strength of the U.S. Economy

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Thursday, 14 March 2013 13:47

Yes, boys and girls and Arnold Schwarzenegger fans everywhere, a strong dollar does not mean a healthy economy, contrary to what Neil Irwin told us today in the Washington Post. In fact, fans of arithmetic and believers in accounting identities know that an over-valued dollar is at the root of our current economic problems. While believers in the Confidence Fairy think that investment will reach new highs as a share of GDP, and/or consumers will spend even when they have little wealth, those of us who follow data know that the only way to make up the demand shortfall created by trade deficit is with a large budget deficit. However, the Serious People say that we can't have a large budget deficit, so that means we get high unemployment.

The only serious way to get the trade deficit down is get the dollar down. That will make our exports cheaper to people living in other countries and make imports more expensive for people in the United States. That means more exports and fewer imports, and therefore a smaller trade deficit. (For those folks who were looking to the trade agreements, the idea that these will reduce the trade deficit is just something that the Serious People tell to children.)

Anyhow, it is easy to show there is no direct relationship between the health of the economy and the strength of the dollar. In fact, the recovery in the first half of the Clinton administration was based to a substantial extent on the idea that a lower deficit would lead to a lower valued dollar and therefore more net exports. And, this largely worked as shown below.

FRED Graph

Then Robert Rubin took over at Treasury and pushed his high dollar policy giving us record trade deficits along with a stock and housing bubble. You know the rest of the story.