"Poor little Chinnu lives on one dollar a day"

Cost of Living

If the cost of living in one place is $100 / month, those with the same amount of money will be able to buy more than those who live in places where the cost of living is $1000 / month. $3 a day pretty much guarantees that you'll be homeless in Manhattan.

Getting High

What is interesting is that the more rich people in your neighborhood, the higher the cost of living. The simple fact that the rich can spend more than everyone else means there will be more cash running around chasing the goods that you also want to buy. This raises the local cost of living.

Enabling Domination

This isn't to say that people in Third World countries are much better off than we believe, even if their $3 can go further than a homeless New Yorker's $3. Why aren't they better off?

A strong dollar means those with the most dollars (perhaps the US government or perhaps not) have a lot of purchasing power around the world, especially in those Third World countries. This allows them to buy up the natural resources to produce American weapons instead of local goods, for wealthy corporations to easily bribe any government official they want, to hire the media to push propaganda in any direction they choose, and to make high quality weapons available only to those backed by the wealthy.

The strong dollar policy is a mythical policy by which the United States supposedly takes action to keep the value of the dollar strong vis-a-vis other currencies. The benefits of this would be to encourage foreigners to hold dollars because they are highly valued, which would tend to increase foreign investment into the United States and maintain the dollar's centrality to the global economy. A strong dollar acts as the global reserve currency, the type of money that central banks of all nations want to acquire because it is a safe store of value. A strong dollar policy would also make oil imports cheaper and hence tend to keep inflation down.

The only problem is that however often the Treasury Secretary and the chairman of the Federal Reserve say it, it doesn't exist. The term "strong dollar policy" dates from the late 1990s, when concerns abounded that the U.S. might actively intervene in currency markets to weaken the dollar's value. The announcement of the policy was designed to stymie this rumour. The only problem was that in the modern global economy, which is so dependent on instantaneous financial transactions that can be set off at the push of a button, the words of policymakers about their future intentions really matter. Having said it once, U.S. officials were stuck with it - stop saying it, and the markets might think something was afoot and rapidly sell dollars before they lost their value.

While the whole thing quickly became a charade that prompted eye rolls on trading floors, the dollar lost some 40% of its value between 2002 and 2008. America today continues to run massive budget deficits and have a central bank that is pumping oodles of new money into circulation, both of which tend to seriously weaken the dollar over time. And there's plenty of historical precedent - just as the Bush-era deficits went to finance wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (all at the expense of that "strong dollar"), the dollar took a similar battering under Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon's Vietnam War and domestic agendas in the 1960s and '70s: between 1965 and 1981, the dollar lost two thirds of its value.

So why does the idea of the "strong dollar policy" persist? The reason is simple. None of the policies that weaken the dollar - huge deficits and plentiful quantitative easing - are done explicitly because they weaken the dollar; that's just a side-effect that, up until now, hasn't caused too many problems. The Fed and the government remain committed on paper to keeping inflation - which erodes the value of the dollar - low, which is in contrast to an earlier era when inflation was regarded as relatively benign. By saying it believes in the strong dollar policy, the U.S. government is saying that - all other things being equal - that is what it wants. Those pesky wars and financial crises just keep getting in the way. When they stop even pretending, we'll know we've finally arrived in a totally new economic era.

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