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The international relations of QE3

The Wall Street Journal has two great stories on the Federal Reserve's decision to go for QE3 -- a third round of quantitative easing.  First, Jon Hilsenrath documents how Fed chairman Benjamin Bernanke built a consensus among the Federal Reserve governors:

For weeks, Mr. Bernanke made dozens of private calls on days, nights and weekends, trying to build broad support for an unusual bond-buying program he wanted approved during the Fed's September meeting, according to people familiar with the matter....

Fed officials described the Fed chairman's phone calls as low-pressure conversations. Mr. Bernanke sometimes dialed up colleagues while in his office on weekends, catching them off guard when their phones identified his private number as unknown. He gave updates on the latest staff forecasts, colleagues said. He asked their thoughts and what they could comfortably support, they said.

The calls helped Mr. Bernanke gauge how far he could push his committee. It also won him trust among some of his fiercest opponents, officials said. Nearly all of Mr. Bernanke's colleagues described him as a good listener.

"Even if you disagree with him on the programs, you know your voice has been heard," said [Dallas Fed President Richard] Fisher, one of his opponents. "There is no effort to bully."

So Bernanke did a lot of hand-holding, a lot of listening... to the key Fed decision-makers.  What's equally important is who he didn't talk to -- namely, other central bank heads in the rest of the world. 

I bring this up because some of these central bank officials are pretty pissed.  QE3 has caused the yuan to hit its all-time high against the dollar, for example.  Which leads us to the other interesting Wall Street Journal story.  Aaron Back and In-Soo Nam document how South Korea and China have reacted to QE3

Chinese and South Korean central-bank officials criticized the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest easing efforts and advocated reducing Asia's dependence on the U.S. dollar.

The comments Thursday, at a joint seminar in Beijing by the two central banks, are the clearest indication yet of a rising backlash in Asia against U.S. monetary policy, suggesting it could speed up the search for alternatives to the dollar as the main global currency.

"The rise in global liquidity could lead to rapid capital inflows into emerging markets including South Korea and China and push up global raw-material prices," said Bank of Korea Gov. Kim Choong-soo. "Therefore, Korea and China need to make concerted efforts to minimize the negative spillover effect arising from the monetary policies of advanced nations."

Chen Yulu, an academic adviser to the People's Bank of China, said Asia needs a "regional core currency" to reduce its dependence on the dollar. China's ultimate goal is for the yuan to be as important as the euro or the dollar, he said.

Whoa, this sounds pretty bad... until you get to the next paragraph: 

But [Chen] acknowledged that will be a slow process, saying it would be possible for the yuan to be fully convertible by 2020, and that the overall yuan-internationalization process may last until 2040. China strictly controls its currency, though it has made small moves to broaden its use globally in recent years and has also allowed a little more flexibility in its movements (emphasis added).

As I've said before, the dollar ain't going away anytime soon, and whatever leverage analysts believe China possesses with its dollar holdings is vastly overstated.   

Furthermore, it's worth noting that the international bitching and moaning about QE3 seems much less than the "currency war" rhetoric that QE2 triggered.  Why?  Based on my half-assed blog analysis I'd speculate that there are three reasons: 

1)  The global economy is in a more sluggish state in 2012 than in 2010, so it's hard to argue that expansionary monetary policy is inappropriate now. 

2)  The United States was not the only major economy to go the quantitative easing route in the past few months.  Both the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan have made similar -- if uncoordinated -- moves

3)  The central bank heads have learned frrom QE2 that the bitching and moaning won't accomplish anything.  It didn't stop QE2 and it won't stop QE3. 

Am I missing anything? 

Daniel W. Drezner

All politics is local in China and India

In today's paper the New York Times has two long stories on the two largest countries in the world: one on China and one on India. What's interesting is that both stories talk about the tensions between national and regional governments -- but their interpretation of the behavior of these local governments is very different.

Let's start with China, where Andrew Jacobs notes that political paralysis at the national level combined with the economic slowdown is causing regional governments to double down on their debt-driven growth:

Local governments, alarmed by a slowdown they fear could lead to mass unemployment and the kind of sluggish growth that can dent political careers, have decided to take matters into their own hands. In recent months, a number of cities have proposed extravagant infrastructure projects they hope will be financed in part by newly liberalized bank loan policies.

Tianjin claims $236 billion will be spent in the petrochemical, aerospace and other industries. Xi’an, home of the famed terra cotta warriors, plans to invest tens of billions of dollars on nine new subway lines. In Guizhou, one of China’s poorest provinces, officials said they hoped to funnel $472 billion into tourism-related development.

In Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan, officials brag of 12.9 percent growth as they spend billions of dollars on a new subway system, a ring road, an intercity rail line and a pair of bridges to knit together its transportation system.

“We haven’t felt any impact from the crisis in Europe,” said Liu Maosong, chairman of the Hunan Economics Association and an adviser to the Changsha government. “Our guiding philosophy is ‘investment, investment, investment.’ ”

Even if many such projects turn out to be wishful thinking, economists have expressed alarm that municipalities are still chasing debt-financed growth. “It almost scares me to death,” said Mao Yushi, a prominent economist. “Local governments are using the people’s money for investment, but when they can’t repay the banks, the financial system will snap.”

And Liao Jinzhong, an economist at Hunan University, worries that much of the spending is misplaced. “What we really could use is a functioning sewage system,” he said, speaking from his sixth-floor apartment in a crumbling faculty building that has no elevator.

Mr. Liao said he gave frequent lectures at the local party school about the dangerous fixation on propping up growth figures at all costs. He said officials often congratulated him on his frank views.

“But then they admit they can’t change the way they do things,” he said. “Given that the whole system is oriented toward bolstering the careers of officialdom, I just don’t see things changing any time soon.”

Interesting... so because of the political incentives that exist within the Chinese Communist Party, provincial and urban leaders have an incentive to prime their pumps to seek advancement.

Now let's turn to India, where Jim Yardley notes that -- wait for it -- seeming paralysis at the national level and a sagging national economy are causing unaffiliated leaders at the regional and local level to muse about things like forming a third party and compete at the national level. Yardley notes that the likelihood of success is low. What's interesting, however, is the question of why these local leaders are so popular:

Regional bosses, once in decline, are becoming kingmakers again: the squat, sleepy-eyed Mulayam Singh Yadav, who oversees the powerful Samajwadi Party, is even publicly musing about himself as a future prime minister.

“The incentive for every single party from the opposition to the allies is to send a signal that the Congress can’t govern,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “That’s the election plank.”....

“Indian politics will have to live with bargains and negotiations with regional parties,” Ashutosh Varshney, a political expert, said in an e-mail interview. “A third front may or may not emerge, but both national parties will have to negotiate and bargain. That also means that India will find it harder to make firm assertions of power on the international stage, à la China. Its power will grow, but more gradually.”....

In the meantime, India’s regional leaders will continue to press for advantage. Ms. Banerjee is planning a huge demonstration in New Delhi on Monday against the government’s new economic measures. Even as [Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata] Banerjee is often criticized for being intemperate and unpredictable, her influence is undeniable: this week the American ambassador, Nancy Powell met with her privately, just as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a point of visiting her during a trip to India in May.

Other regional leaders are also increasingly powerful national figures. Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of the state of Bihar, has hinted that his regional party could join any coalition that granted his state special status. Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Orissa, has expressed support for a third-front coalition. Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has also spoken suggestively about a new political alliance.

Most of them have won political support by delivering economic growth and, to varying degrees, improved government. This is one reason that even as India’s politics is again fragmenting, some analysts believe that the country’s economic modernization can continue. In recent years, as policy logjams paralyzed the central government, many international and domestic business leaders shifted their focus to negotiating with individual state leaders.

So, if one buys both of these stories, there's an interesting contrast. Both countries appear to be dealing with feckless national leadership and a slowdown in their national economies. In China, regional leaders are pursuing reckless "growth now" policies that could harm the national economy in the long run. In India, it's the competent economic leadership at the regional level that's bailing out a dysfunctional national government (emphasis added).

The thing is, I don't know if I completely buy Yardley's story on India. I've read enough on China to know that Jacobs' assertion about bad regional policy seems to be pretty accurate (not to mention the out-and-out distortions in economic statistics coming from China's provinces) I wish he had pushed a little bit deeper to see exactly how these regional political bosses had delivered better economic growth. If they did it using variants of what China's leaders did -- short-term measures that accelerate growth now at the expense of growth later -- then what's interesting is that regardless of regime type, local leaders can make life hell for national economic policymakers. If, on the other hand, India's regional leaders have done a genuinely better job at governing, then it's a really interesting story.

What do you think? Psst... in this case, by "you," I mean India experts.