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How can a weak dollar be beneficial?

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Originally posted on October 22, 2009.

 

I'm still receiving email pushback on my view that a falling dollar can be good for the U.S. economy.  The critics charge: why not just let the dollar fall close to zero or at least hope for such?  A few points:

 

1. I'm not asking for a specific weak dollar policy (we've already done enough on that front!).  The point is that if the market brings a falling dollar, this outcome can be part of the equilibrating process.

 

2. You don't have to approve of all the policies, or private sector practices (e.g., a low savings rate) that produced the weak dollar.  A weak dollar is still a healthy response, given those constraints.

 

3. Never forget the difference between real and nominal exchange rates.  That answers the conundrum about wishing for a dollar of near-zero value.

 

4. A falling dollar will (often, not always) increase employment in the export sector.  Supply-side, production-based multipliers are the best kind to have and they can outweigh the economic costs of higher import prices.  When the dollar falls, a big chunk of that shift is born by foreign exporters like a tax rather than being passed along to U.S. consumers.  The net effect is that Mercedes-Benz subsidizes job creation in the United States.  And sometimes a falling currency is in fact an efficient form of lump sum taxation in this regard.

 

5. Free traders are usually economic cosmopolitans, which is good.  A weak currency in one country means a strong currency in another and the distribution effect, at least at the first-order level of analysis, is a wash.  So cosmopolitanites shouldn't object to weak currencies per se.  From a global point of view, a lot of currency movements are close to a net wash in efficiency terms, although they may be good for at least one of the countries in the equation.  As a rough rule, weak currencies do the most good where resources are unemployed and there is a realistic elasticity of exports, though it is more complicated than that.

 

6. A weak dollar poses the biggest problems for the EU and other foreign regions.  Still you can see those as real problems and think a falling dollar is OK for the U.S., taken alone.

 

7. Again: blah-blah-blah caveats about the difference between a currency falling as a pure thought experiment and a currency falling as associated with some particular cause.  Blah, blah, blah, etc.  Blah.

 

Daniel Drezner offers related commentary.

About the Author
Tyler Cowen is Holbert C. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Director of the Mercatus Center and the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy. He is published widely in economics journals, including the American Economic Review and Journal of Political Economy. With Alex Tabarrok he co-writes the Marginal Revolution blog, often ranked as the #1 economics blog. He is also the author of Discover Your Inner Economist (Dutton, 2007) and numerous other books on economics. He writes regularly for the popular press on economics, including for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, and The Wilson Quarterly.