While cause and effect in human affairs is inevitably a muddled matter (scholars still debate the causes of the French Revolution and the cures of the Great Depression), we owe it to our hopes for future prosperity to make a serious effort to understand what just happened and why. That brings me back to the question of Chinese currency manipulation.
A growing body of leading experts believe that the Chinese refused to allow their exporting strength vis-a-vis the United States to be reflected in a true value of their basic monetary unit, the yuan (also known as the renminbi). By pegging it to the dollar, they ran up huge surpluses and recycled the money back to the United States.
But more significantly, the global account imbalances -- profoundly exaggerated by their fixing the yuan -- may have been the primary cause of the world financial crisis. The case against this act of "exchange rate protectionism" (professor Max Corden coined the phrase) was put forcefully and presciently by Martin Wolf, the Financial Times' chief economic commentator (and as close to a 21st-century Walter Bagehot as we have), in his 2008 book, "Fixing Global Finance": "Many blame the United States' predicament on the policies of the Federal Reserve and lax regulation of the financial system. These arguments are not without merit, but they are exaggerated." He goes on to make a powerful case that China's currency-rate fixing supercharged the current account imbalances and led to the disaster.
What makes Wolf's argument piquant is that he cites -- and relies on for the "significance" argument -- the powerful lecture "Reflections on Global Account Imbalances," delivered in 2006 in India by Lawrence Summers -- then a private citizen and now President Obama's chief economic adviser.
It is doubly interesting that Summers gave the following dust-cover endorsement last year to Wolf's book: "Wolf is the world's preeminent financial journalist. This book should be read by anyone who cares about the future of the international system."
Major reviews of his book all point to the centrality of this currency-manipulation charge against the Chinese. For example, the review in The Observer -- a British newspaper -- by Will Hutton, states: "Wolf is tough on China's role in all of this and his book will be very unpopular with the Politburo and Chinese Communist party, which want to blame the hegemonic US for the crisis."
White House public talking points cite "Wall Street greed" and the shortcomings of our health, energy, carbon and education policies as major causes of the crisis. It would appear that the president's senior economic adviser may have a somewhat different point of view.
Both the administration and the two major parties in Congress owe the public their best non-ideological, nonpartisan public analysis of the causes of the current conditions. The financial re-regulation decisions they make may well decide whether our grandchildren live in prosperity or poverty. Let's not rush to write and pass this fateful legislation, as we did with previous economic legislation, until the public and the government know what we are doing -- and the politics permit an honest discussion.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.