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By Steve Greenfield, Contributor to CollectiveWizdom
September 26, 2007
A single bad event, by itself, is rarely a cause for worry. But
put that single bad event together with another seemingly
unrelated bad event and, well, there could be serious trouble
Take the steady, troublesome decline of the value of the
American dollar. (See “The Incredible Shrinking Dollar” at
www.collectivewizdom.com) That now well-established
decline has turned into what appears eerily like a nosedive.
The dollar has now lost about 46% of its value against this
newly-created Frankenstein of Old-World European
currencies. It makes some of us who like to travel every now
and again nostalgic for the good old days of French francs
and German marks.
The greenback’s decline means all of us Americans now have
less purchasing power versus almost every other major
currency ---the European euro, the Japanese yen, the Chinese
yuan and so on. In a real sense, we’re just not as rich as we
used to be.
Less purchasing power means we can’t bring home as much
of that Bordeaux as we used to or eat as much Kobe beef if
we happen to be in Tokyo. Maybe that’s a loss we can live
But here’s one downside to the shrinking greenback that’s
even more ominous. Around the world, there’s growing
nervousness about the value of the greenback as a “reserve”.
What does that mean? Well, you and I bank at the retail level,
so to speak. When we have an extra buck or two we march it
into Citibank or some other bank nearby.
When a whole country has extra cash, it has a slightly
different choice to make. It can keep its extra cash in the form
of its own currency or—and here’s the rub—it can keep it in
the form of somebody else’s currency.
So, over the years, when a country like Saudi Arabia made an
extra billion or so in oil money, it could convert those billions
into another currency and hold them in its central bank.
Throughout the last century, the decision Saudi Arabia and
most any country with extra dough made was simple –put the
extra dough into good ol’ American greenbacks.
That choice worked for them. And it worked for us. It worked
for them because the dollar was the strongest, safest currency
in the world. No risk the money would be worthless
overnight. It worked for us because if all the big central
banks are holding dollars, that stabilizes our greenback’s
value around the world—it kind of makes us the “House” in
casino terms. The world is playing on our currency terms, so
everyone around the table has a vested interest in keeping
our greenbacks ---and us—strong.
But now, all that may be changing.
With the decline of the greenback, central bankers around the
world are starting to get nervous. After all, who wants to
convert a billion in oil to greenbacks only to wake up the next
morning and find you only have a measly $300 million. Now,
of course the decline is not that steep that quickly but you get
On January 12, 2005, the head of Saudi Arabia's central bank
made the first of what became over the last two years, a
steady drumbeat of negative statements about the dollar’s
future as the world’s reserve currency. Hamad Saudi Al
Sayyari, governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency,,
stated that he “expects the euro to play a greater role in
global currency reserves in the future, although there has
been no shift so far from dollars to euros.” So far?
Not exactly a vote of confidence.
Here’s the problem. If nervous heads become nervous feet,
leading to a stampede out of the dollar by the central bankers,
that in and of itself will hammer the dollar’s value. And where
will that exodus of dollars go? Into stronger currencies—
euros, Chinese yuan, wherever there the values are holding
All this might be not be so alarming if our general economy
were not itself in an no-one’s-saying-it recession, with the
spiraling costs of war and the mortgage meltdown. So there’s
no economic engine to drive the dollar back up.
Do the foreign central bankers know something we ordinary
Americans don’t? Or is now a good time to start learning how
much that doggie in the window costs in Chinese yuan? Can
we put our retirement nest eggs in euros?
Kids, board up the barn, this one looks like a perfect storm.
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