Ask Money

A dollar collapse

Chris Farrell Nov 3, 2009

Question: My husband’s paranoid web sites are now predicting the collapse of the dollar by the end of the year. They say that other countries are no longer buying dollars and that the Fed is printing money like crazy to make up for the lack of foreign investment.

What do you think? If the dollar did collapse, what would that mean for the average citizen? Cheryl, Boulder, CO

Answer: The dollar has been weak in the international currency markets. At the moment, a weaker dollar has improved the competitive position of American exporters against their foreign rivals. I’m skeptical that we’re seeing a “run on the dollar,” however. For instance, the dollar rallied during the global financial crisis. The greenback is still the world’s safe haven during times of trouble. So, some of the retreat in the dollar’s value reflects a calmer mood among global traders.

I’m also in the camp that believes the Federal Reserve will be able to successfully mop up money in the aftermath of its extraordinary campaign to prevent another depression. It won’t be easy or smooth, but I’m convinced the Fed is well aware of the problem ans has the intellectual and monetary tools to cope.

Still, the risk that the dollar will spiral sharply lower is there. We all know that the risk of catastrophe can’t be simply dismissed simply because it’s unlikely, not following the once “unthinkable” government takeovers of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, GM and Chrysler.

So, you asked what a dollar collapse might mean for the average citizen. Basically, it would be a disaster. My guess is that the financial markets would crater as financings denominated in dollars plunged in value. The price of oil and other critical commodities could skyrocket. Inflation would certainly take off. Americans would find it harder to borrow with the rest of the world wary of lending to us. After all, who wants to get paid back with depreciating dollars? Interest rates would sky rocket. The Federal Reserve would feel forced to tighten monetary policy to stem to panic. Trade wars could erupt. And so on.

Peter Coy of Business Week has a good article directly looking into your question, What Happens if the Dollar Crashes. You can read it here.

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