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Niall Ferguson, MA, D.Phil., is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
I want to include a few paragraphs from a most important article by the brilliant Niall Ferguson, author of “The Ascent of Money, A Financial History of the world.” Ferguson’s article is about the coming “divorce” between the US and China. I believe the future of the world will revolve around the relationship of US and China. The Ferguson article appeared in Newsweek magazine (Aug. 21) and is entitled, “Chimerica Is Headed For Divorce.” And I quote —
“Let’s look at the numbers. China’s holding of US Treasuries rose to $801.5 billion in May, an increase of 5% from the $763.5 billion in April. Call it $40 billion a month. And let’s imagine the Chinese do that every month through this fiscal year. That would be a credit line to the US government of $480 billion. Given that the total US deficit is forecast to be about $2 trillion, that means the Chinese may finance less than a quarter of total Federal-government borrowing — whereas a few years ago they were financing virtually the whole deficit.
“The trouble is that the Chinese clearly feel they have enough US government bonds. Their great anxiety is that the Obama administration’s very lax fiscal policy, plus the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing (in laymen’s terms, printing money) are going to cause one of two things to happen: the price of US bonds could fall and/or the purchasing power of the dollar could fall. Either way, the Chinese lose. Their current strategy is to shift their purchases to the short end of the yield curve, buying Treasury bills instead of 10-year bonds. But that doesn’t address the currency risk. In a best-selling book titled Currency Wars, Chinese economist Song Hongbing warned that the US has a bad habit of stiffing its creditors by letting the dollar slide. This, he points out, is what happened to the Japanese in the 1980s. First their currency strengthened against the dollar. Then their economy tanked.
“What is China’s alternative if it seeks a divorce from America? Call it the empire option. Instead of continuing in this unhappy marriage, the Chinese can go it alone, counting on their growing economic might (according to Goldman Sachs, China’s GDP could equal that of the US by 2027) to buy them global power in their own right. In some ways, they’ve already begun doing this. Their naval strategy clearly implies a challenge to US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. Their investments in African minerals and infrastructure look distinctly imperial too. And now the official line from Prime Minister Wen Jiaobao is to hasten the implementation of our ‘going out’ strategy and combine the utilization of foreign-exchange reserves with the ‘going out’ of our enterprises. That sounds like a Chinese campaign to buy foreign assets — exchanging dodgy dollars for copper mines.”
Russell Comment — I believe the above is a brilliant look at our international future. No nation (the US) can be both the world’s leader and world’s biggest debtor. In his fight to thwart the bear market, Bernanke is sowing the seeds for the future demise of the United States. The law of unintended consequences is about to become operative.
A huge problem ahead is this — will the dollar decline slowly, as it has been doing, or will the dollar crash, setting off a world crisis?
Prediction — Where ever you are now will be your best situation for years to come. The trick ahead will be to hold on to what you have. I’ve been warning that a “hard rain is a’coming.” So far, we’ve only experienced a drizzle.