Ben Bernanke made something of a stand today at the Central Banking Conference in Frankfurt today. The Federal Reserve chair defended Fed policy, and called for more international "cooperation." While the AFP interprets his remarks largely as a response to criticism over the Fed's quantitative easing measures from German officials, Bernanke also took some carefully worded aim at China:
It is striking that, amid all the concerns about renewed private capital inflows to the emerging market economies, total capital, on net, is still flowing from relatively labor-abundant emerging market economies to capital-abundant advanced economies. In particular, the current account deficit of the United States implies that it experienced net capital inflows exceeding 3 percent of GDP in the first half of this year. A key driver of this "uphill" flow of capital is official reserve accumulation in the emerging market economies that exceeds private capital inflows to these economies. The total holdings of foreign exchange reserves by selected major emerging market economies, have risen sharply since the crisis and now surpass $5 trillion--about six times their level a decade ago. China holds about half of the total reserves of these selected economies, slightly more than $2.6 trillion.
It is instructive to contrast this situation with what would happen in an international system in which exchange rates were allowed to fully reflect market fundamentals. In the current context, advanced economies would pursue accommodative monetary policies as needed to foster recovery and to guard against unwanted disinflation. At the same time, emerging market economies would tighten their own monetary policies to the degree needed to prevent overheating and inflation. The resulting increase in emerging market interest rates relative to those in the advanced economies would naturally lead to increased capital flows from advanced to emerging economies and, consequently, to currency appreciation in emerging market economies. This currency appreciation would in turn tend to reduce net exports and current account surpluses in the emerging markets, thus helping cool these rapidly growing economies while adding to demand in the advanced economies. Moreover, currency appreciation would help shift a greater proportion of domestic output toward satisfying domestic needs in emerging markets. The net result would be more balanced and sustainable global economic growth.
Given these advantages of a system of market-determined exchange rates, why have officials in many emerging markets leaned against appreciation of their currencies toward levels more consistent with market fundamentals? The principal answer is that currency undervaluation on the part of some countries has been part of a long-term export-led strategy for growth and development. This strategy, which allows a country's producers to operate at a greater scale and to produce a more diverse set of products than domestic demand alone might sustain, has been viewed as promoting economic growth and, more broadly, as making an important contribution to the development of a number of countries. However, increasingly over time, the strategy of currency undervaluation has demonstrated important drawbacks, both for the world system and for the countries using that strategy.
Read the speech here.