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International Macroeconomics: U.S. and China: Department of "Huh?!" (Stephen Roach Edition)

Needless to say, Paul Krugman is right: if China saves less and spends more, its capital exports drop. As its capital exports drop, its savers' demand for dollars in exchange for renminbi fall--and the value of the dollar falls relative to the renminbi. A revaluation of the renminbi is not an alternative to an increase in Chinese spending but rather part of the process of making that increase in spending come about.

Ryan Avent:

China's currency: America's game: HERE'S something ridiculous:

Morgan Stanley Asia Chairman Stephen Roach said that Paul Krugman’s call to push China to allow a stronger yuan is “very bad” advice and that increased Chinese spending is a better way of reducing trade imbalances. “We should take out the baseball bat on Paul Krugman -- I mean I think that the advice is completely wrong,” Roach said in an Bloomberg Television interview in Beijing when asked about Krugman’s call, characterized as akin to taking a baseball bat to China. “We’re lashing out at China rather than tending to our own business,” which is raising U.S. savings, Roach said.

Two points. First, Mr Krugman's advice to China isn't wrong; it's right. China's currency is undervalued, and I think everyone (including the Chinese, but evidently excluding Mr Roach), thinks that an orderly appreciation of the renminbi would be a net benefit to China. Where I disagree with Mr Krugman is in his advice to America. The currency issue isn't a big enough problem to be worth the risks associated with an aggressive American push to get China to revalue. Secondly, I think it's very inappropriate to wish violence on anyone, and particularly on a very good economist who is just arguing for what he believes. That's a poor way to conduct discourse, though it's probably a good way to get invited back on a television show.

Paul Krugman replies to Roach:

Steve Roach Goes Batty: I really don’t understand Roach’s argument here; he seems to have subscribed to the Underpants Gnomes theory of trade balances:

  1. Increase savings
  2. ?????
  3. Exports!

To be honest, sometimes I feel that I’ve spent most of my adult life knocking down the same misunderstanding, over and over again. I wrote about more or less the same issue more than 20 years ago:

There is a widespread view that world payments imbalances can be remedied through increased demand in surplus countries and reduced demand in deficit countries, without any need for real exchange rate changes. In fact shifts in demand and real exchange rate adjustment are necessary complements, not substitutes....

What I wonder here is how Roach — or anyone thinks that increased savings would help right now. What would cause an attempt to increase savings to be translated into increased investment, or an improved trade balance, as opposed to simply a more depressed economy. Yes, I know that macroeconomics at the zero lower bound is different from the normal scene — but how can an economist as good as Steve Roach not get that after more or less two years in a liquidity trap?

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