2009 Archives

U.S. inflation threat worries Chinese, too


The following is from the March 24, 2009, edition of The Dallas Morning News.  Economist Kathleen Cooper, a fellow of the Tower Center for Political Studies in SMU's Dedman College, provided expertise for this story.

March 25, 2009

The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – Yes, we are sinners who lived beyond our means and borrowed until the house of cards fell down. On the other side of the world, however, China was sending its savings here in a flood of temptation. The Chinese didn't want to put all that money to work. We did. We just weren't very wise about it.

While American consumers repent and rebuild their savings, the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration are trying to keep the old partnership of lender and borrower together as a means of resurrecting the financial system with massive stimulus spending.

The dialogue about this has been unusually open.

Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Beijing and assured the Chinese that buying U.S. debt is "a safe investment."

"The United States has a well-deserved financial reputation," she told Chinese television viewers.

On March 13, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told reporters he was "a little worried."

"I would like you to call on the United States to honor its word and stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets," Wen said at a Beijing news conference. . .

 Economist Kathleen Cooper at Southern Methodist University's Tower Center for Political Studies found Wen's remarks intriguing.

"Warnings are important," she said.

"They worry more than anything else that the dollar will fall in value again. They certainly don't think we won't pay. We will pay. It's a question of what the value of the dollar is when it's time to pay."

Two-thirds of the U.S. economy is built around consumer spending. Since October, consumer spending has gone into decline while consumer savings have increased. That's individually wise but collectively harmful, because it weakens an economy already in a credit freeze.

The federal government and the Federal Reserve are trying to push trillions of dollars into the economy to get credit and spending moving again. Once things do get moving, however, all that cash and debt could be inflationary, weakening the dollar and the value of China's portfolio.

"Anyone looking at all the stimulus liquidity the Fed is putting into global systems has to worry about higher inflation down the way," Cooper said. "I hope the Fed is as good at pulling it out as they are putting it in."

Read the full story.

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