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March 22, 2011

IS A Weakening Currency Good For Economic Growth?

Conventional wisdom is that a weakening currency is a boon for economic growth and exports; however, history does not support this view.

For example, during the 20-year period from 1971 to 1991 - often referred to now as an economic miracle - the Japanese yen tripled in value against the dollar, an average appreciation rate of about 10% per year. This increasing purchasing power enabled the Japanese to enjoy steady economic growth and rising living standards. Over that time, Japan’s GDP grew at an average rate of 4.5% and net exports increased fivefold. Government debt as a percentage of GDP fell slightly to about 20%.

Over the following 20 years, from 1991 – 2011, the Japanese economy has been dead in the water. Yen appreciation slowed considerably, with the currency rising by approximately 50% against the dollar, or about 2.5% per year. However, over that time, the Japanese economy and net export growth essentially stagnated, with GDP growing by less than 1% per annum and government debt exploding to over 120% of GDP.

The real problem for Japan is that in the aftermath of the bursting of the stock and real estate bubbles, the Japanese government refused to allow market forces to repair the damage. Instead, it based its foolish approach on restricting the rise in its currency to maintain exports to the United States. In this cart-before-the-horse worldview, Japan assumed its economic growth was a function of its exports. In reality, exports flow from economic growth.

So, in order to engineer an export-led recovery, Japan embarked on an era of central government planning, Keynesian style pump-priming, and nearly endless quantitative easing. The result was disaster. The only bright spot was that the underlying strength of the Japanese economy kept a lid on consumer prices despite all the inflation deliberately created by the Bank of Japan. So even while good jobs have become harder to find, ordinary consumers have had the benefit of falling prices. It is ironic that Japan’s ”deflation” is cited as the primary cause of its malaise. If Japan’s economy had been less efficient, its 20-year malaise would have been accompanied by increasing consumer prices, a.k.a. stagflation. This would have caused much more suffering to the Japanese people.

Still, as a result of its enormous economic policy errors, much of Japan’s efforts over the past 20 years have benefitted Americans rather than its own citizens. A tremendous share of their purchasing power was transferred across the Pacific, helping to inflate a bubble economy in the United States. Of course, as the Japanese economy struggled beneath the weight of this massive American subsidy, it gradually passed the baton to China, which for the same foolish reasons was happy to run with it. - in Liberty Maven

Related: iShares MSCI Japan Index (ETF) (NYSE:EWJ), Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc (ADR) (NYSE:MTU), Mizuho Financial Group, Inc. (ADR) (NYSE:MFG)

Peter Schiff`s comments on the economy, stock markets, politics and gold. Schiff is the renowned writer of the bestseller Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse.
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