It is the season of dollar panic. These panic-mongers are varied: gold bugs, fiscal hawks and many others agree that the dollar, the dominant currency since the first world war, is on its death bed. Hyperinflationary collapse is in store. Does this make sense? No. All the same, the dollar-based global monetary system is defective. It would be good to start building alternative arrangements.
It's worth reading Wolf's column in full, but he makes a point there similar to one David Merkel made on his Aleph blog1 recently [Merkel]:
Whatever country of our world has the status of reserve currency must issue debt, and a lot of it, that other countries can invest in to park their idle cash balances.
Wolf sketches out the "Triffin dilemma" this leads to: an overhang of debt that eventually undermines confidence in the reserve currency. Wolf's proposed solution is to look for an alternative to the dollar as a reserve currency, but I wonder if a simpler alternative would make sense in the near-term: instead of having surplus countries buy up U.S. debt to satiate their demand for dollar-based assets, why doesn't the U.S. government offer them an equity-like investment instead? Specifically, why not offer shares in a sort of massive master limited partnership that would invest its assets in nuclear power plants and other infrastructure, and pay dividends out of the revenues generated from those infrastructure assets?
Unlike the proceeds from the sale of Treasuries, which can go to fund transfer payments and health care for retirees, or extended military expeditions, proceeds from the sale of shares in this master limited partnership would go toward increasing productive capacity, which would fuel future economic growth in the U.S. This idea is a similar to (but simpler than) one proposed by Professor Yu Qiao of the School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing, in the Financial Times last spring.
1Speaking of Merkel's blog, last month he asked if any readers had any stock ideas to share. I mentioned three: USEG, AYSI.OB, and DSNY.OB. As of yesterday's close, they were up 26%, 390%, and 60%, respectively.