Few issues in economics are more susceptible to political misrepresentation than exchange rates. The past few days have provided another perfect illustration of this point.
On Tuesday, in response to pressure from Shinzo Abe, the country’s new prime minister, the Bank of Japan voted to increase its inflation target from 1 per cent to 2 per cent and to hit that target “at the earliest possible date”. To that end, starting a year from now, it will buy Y13tn ($140bn) of mostly short-term government debt each month.
The Japanese move triggered a flurry of warnings of an imminent “currency war”. Alexei Ulyukayev, first deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank, led the charge, closely followed by Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, and Bahk Jae-wan, South Korea’s finance minister.
日本这一举措引发了一轮警告，称有可能会立即导致“货币战争”。率先发难的是俄罗斯央行第一副主席阿列克谢•乌卢卡耶夫(Alexei Ulyukayev)，紧随其后的是德国央行(Bundesbank)行长延斯•魏德曼(Jens Weidmann)和韩国财政部长朴宰完(Bahk Jae-wan)。
Mr Weidmann referred darkly to “alarming infringements” and an “end to central bank autonomy”. The Japanese were not slow to respond. “Germany is the country whose exports have benefited most from the euro area’s fixed exchange rate system,” shot back Akira Amari, the country’s economy minister. “He’s not in a position to criticise.”
Before the beer glasses start flying in Davos (fat chance), let’s put this in historical perspective. Consider four things.
Back in the 1930s, it was obvious who was waging a currency war. Before the Depression, most countries had been on the gold standard, which had fixed exchange rates in terms of the yellow metal. When Britain abandoned gold in September 1931, it unleashed a wave of competitive devaluations. As economist Barry Eichengreen argues, going off gold was the essential first step towards recovery in the Depression. Floating the pound not only cheapened British exports; more importantly, it allowed the Bank of England to pursue a monetary policy focused on domestic needs.
首先，回到上世纪30年代，很明显谁发动了货币战争。在大萧条(the Depression)之前，多数国家都实行金本位，也就是货币与黄金的兑换率固定。1931年9月英国脱离金本位时引发了一波竞争性贬值的热潮。正如经济学家巴里•埃森格林(Barry Eichengreen)指出的那样，脱离金本位是从大萧条走向复苏的第一个必要步骤。英镑采取浮动汇率不仅令英国出口商品更廉价，更重要的是它使得英国央行(BoE)能够采取关注国内需求的货币政策。