Should Argentina Adopt the Dollar?

Por Nicolás Cachanosky & William J. Luther Publicado el 11/2/19 en https://www.aier.org/article/sound-money-project/should-argentina-adopt-dollar?

 

 

 

On the campaign trail, Mauricio Macri vowed to fight inflation. Now, three years into his administration, it looks like that requires more commitment than he and his team of economic advisors envisioned. Argentina ended 2018 with an annual inflation rate of 47.6 percent. That is the highest rate since the early 1990s, when Argentina’s bout with hyperinflation came to an end. With this in mind, some (including John CochraneSteve Hanke, and Mary Anastasia O’Grady) have called for Argentina to abandon the peso in favor of the dollar.

Dollarization became a relevant policy option in Latin America beginning around 2000. Ecuador dollarized in January 2000. El Salvador dollarized in 2001. But Argentina, which had established a currency board in 1991, moved in the opposite direction following its 2001 crisis. On January 6, 2002, it broke its one-for-one peg with the dollar. The results have been disastrous.

The argument for dollarization is relatively straightforward. Argentina has shown itself incapable of managing the money supply appropriately. The annual rate of inflation has averaged an astounding 55 percent since the central bank was founded in 1935. It would do better by outsourcing its monetary policy. Half measures, like adopting a fixed exchange rate or establishing an orthodox currency board, might work elsewhere. But Argentina has in the past broken the promises implicit in those reforms. In order for its commitment to be credible now, it must go all the way. Replacing the peso with the dollar would remove any potential for the central bank to monetize government debts and put pressure on the Treasury to balance its budget. Inflation expectations would plummet. And low and stable inflation would follow.

Straightforward as the reform is, calls for dollarization in Argentina have largely fallen on deaf ears. Some fret about the consequent loss of monetary policy. Some argue that the requisite reforms would make dollarization unnecessary. Those holding such views cling to the possible, while ignoring the probable.

Dollarization and Domestic Monetary Policy

When a country adopts the dollar, it loses the ability to conduct independent monetary policy. It has no control over the supply of dollars in circulation. If the Federal Reserve engages in expansionary monetary policy, dollarized countries get expansionary monetary policy. If the Fed engages in contractionary monetary policy, dollarized countries get contractionary monetary policy. In other words, dollarized countries are stuck with whatever monetary policy the Fed pursues—and there is little reason to think the Fed will take those dollarized countries into account when setting policy.

Those opposed to dollarization see the outsourcing of monetary policy as a cost. They note that a well-functioning central bank might do a better job than the monetary policy imported from abroad. If the demand for money were to increase in Argentina, for example, the domestic central bank could offset the increase in demand with a corresponding increase in supply to prevent a recession. Without a domestic central bank, changes in the demand for money in Argentina are likely to be ignored. Hence, those opposed to dollarization conclude, Argentina would be better off having its own currency managed by a domestic central bank.

There is no denying that dollarization would prevent Argentina from conducting effective monetary policy. But that is hardly a cost if Argentina is unlikely to conduct effective monetary policy anyway. Argentina has not conducted effective monetary policy in the past. And there is little reason to believe it will conduct monetary policy any better in the future. One should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The first-best solution, where the central bank carefully manages the supply of pesos, is possible. But it is highly improbable. Therefore, the second-best solution of dollarization is probably the best one can hope for.

Dollarization and the Requisite Institutional Reforms

Dollarization is not a panacea. Argentina faces many problems. Its structural deficit, for example, is out of control. The government spends too much and taxes too little. If Argentina is to prosper going forward, fiscal reform is essential.

But the structural deficit—and corresponding ballooning of outstanding debt—is in large part why peso holders have such high inflation expectations. They worry, quite reasonably, that the central bank will print money to extinguish growing debts, that their deposit balances will be converted to treasury bonds prior to an inevitable default. And, perversely, these high inflation expectations necessitate monetary expansion in order to keep money from becoming too tight. By relieving the underlying pressure responsible for high inflation, those opposed to dollarization claim, the requisite fiscal reforms make dollarization unnecessary.

They are correct, so far as it goes. If the requisite fiscal reform were made, there would be little reason to dollarize. But, once again, one must distinguish the possible from the probable. It is possible that the fiscal authority will submit to the requisite reform despite having access to a central bank that might be called upon to monetize the debt. But the odds of implementing such reforms are much improved when the potential for monetization is removed.

The Case for Dollarization

As noted, dollarization is not a first-best solution. It precludes effective monetary policy. It is unnecessary when a country has its fiscal affairs are in order. For these reasons, dollarization is entirely inappropriate for most countries.

But Argentina is not like most countries. It has a history of fiscal profligacy and monetary mismanagement. It has failed, time and time again, to honor its commitments. As a result, the first-best solution is unobtainable in Argentina. It must settle for second-best.

Fortunately, the second-best alternative of dollarization is quite good—even more so when compared to feasible alternatives in Argentina. Low inflation and the fiscal reforms encouraged by dollarization would allow ordinary Argentinians to flourish once again.

 

 

Nicolás Cachanosky es Doctor en Economía, (Suffolk University), Lic. en Economía, (UCA), Master en Economía y Ciencias Políticas, (ESEADE). Fué profesor de Finanzas Públicas en UCA y es Assistant Professor of Economics en Metropolitan State University of Denver.

What balance will we make in 2019 of the Macri administration?

Por Adrián Ravier.  Publicado el 9/2/18 en: http://en.libertadyprogresonline.org/2018/02/09/what-balance-will-we-make-in-2019-of-the-macri-administration/

 

Doing futurology and projecting the economy of these two years 2018-2019, we ask ourselves -in balance mode- how it would end Mauricio Macri his first government in the National Executive and how much he could have made in correcting the inherited imbalances. In what areas would be considered successful, in which we will speak of inaction and in which we would have major problems.

Progress

Beginning with the good news, we should remember that one of the first measures was the removal of the fixed exchange rate, which made it possible to eliminate the black market (blue dollar) from the usual jargon of Argentinians, enabling the access to purchase foreign currency, both for tourism and for imports. This also allowed the elimination of the bottleneck where industrial production was stuck.

This contributed ending an economic stagnation that lasted all the previous government (2011-2015), in which the economy grew one year to fall the next, according to the political cycle. Between 2017 and 2019 it is expected moderate and stable growth of between 2 and 4 percent with improvements in consumption and investment levels. Here, a fundamental role will play labor reform to reduce the obstacles and excessive costs that companies face today to generate jobs and investment projects.

While they may not meet the goals, they may offer data that shows a low of the inflation from 41% registered in 2016 to a rate close to 15% in 2019. Critics will say that inflation in 2015 was lower than the 41% indicated, but this does not take into account the expansive monetary policy of 2015 that generates a lag effect on the next year. Here we must highlight, in addition, the controversy of the future dollar left by the management of Alejandro Vanoli and on which he is still giving explanations before the Courts of Comodoro Py.

The drop in inflation will allow reducing poverty that reached 31% in 2015, was 28% in 2017 and would be around 25-26% by the end of 2019, a structural level that can only be reduced with savings and investment and continuous growth.

An important aspect, which political cost was not lower, will have been ending the tariff delay, removing subsidies to public services. The energy policy managed by Juan Jose Aranguren will be qualified as successful, in addition, by correcting investment deficit in energy infrastructure.

Finally, Argentina will have come out of isolation thanks to the efforts of the ruling that separates it from Iran and Venezuela and build ties with China and the West, seeking investments, of course, but also strengthening political ties. It will not be considered a minor issue that Argentina has abandoned a long default on its public debt, which allowed it to return to financial markets and, among other things, it has accumulated international reserves to support its weakened local currency.

Inaction

Where we hardly see significant progress will be on the fiscal front. Although it removes and lowers export with-holdings and a raise of the non-taxable minimum for the income Tax were a significant first step, in terms of taxes the reform that Congress passed does not raise reduce the tax pressure until after 2020.

In terms of public expenditure, although it removes it from subsidies it is already and will have been significant, there are and there will be other increases that show that spending grew at a rate similar to inflation. The decrease in economic subsidies was compensated with an increase in social subsidies.

The public over-employment had minimal corrections that were compensated with other hirings. Holding it up during these four years will transform a current problem into a structural problem.

Mauricio Macri’s commitment throughout his government was to take care of public employment and try to reduce the fiscal deficit via improvements in tax collection. While the government may show some compliance with its fiscal targets (the primary deficit will probably be below 3%), it is also important to note that it will have maintained the financial deficit at a level similar to that inherited. The decreases of the primary deficit will have been compensated by increases in the interest on debt that had gradualism as a cost.

Negative aspects

The greatest cost of gradualism is the accumulation of public debt. Argentina will present at the end of 2019 a level of worrying debt and a financial deficit that will need a liquid global macroeconomic context that will hardly be sustained until 2020.

The heterodoxy in politics of disinflation who manages Federico Sturzenegger will leave an arsenal of Lebac that will extend the problem of inflation for longer than necessary. Lowering inflation to a single digit will remain a difficult problem in the next government if orthodox reform is to be avoided.

Finally, the more than 30,000 million dollars that Argentina will have received each year in the form of public debt will feed a foreign exchange delay that will represent one more obstacle for the development of its productive activity. The current account deficit will be an obvious consequence.

Those who expected to see a correction of the inherited macroeconomic imbalances in these four years will see important, but partial progress. But those who expected to observe a structural reform of the economy will have to keep waiting.

 

Adrián Ravier es Doctor en Economía Aplicada por la Universidad Rey Juan Carlos de Madrid, Master en Economía y Administración de Empresas por ESEADE. Es profesor de Economía en la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Jurídicas de la Universidad Nacional de La Pampa y profesor de Macroeconomía en la Universidad Francisco Marroquín.