[News] Venezuela's Devaluation Doom-mongers
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 5 13:25:24 EST 2013
Venezuela's Devaluation Doom-mongers
By Mark Weisbrot - The Guardian, March 5th 2013
Venezuela's recent devaluation has sparked quite a bit of discussion in
the international press. The Venezuelan opposition has naturally framed
it as desperate move to head off inevitable economic collapse.
The opposition argument, supported by most of the international media
(which relies on opposition sources), goes like this: Venezuela had to
devalue because the government has run out of money. But the devaluation
is too little and too late, inflation
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/inflation> will get out of control,
there will be more devaluations and more money will leave the country
and the government will go broke and collapse.
Opponents of the Venezuelan government are hoping for an
"inflation-devaluation" spiral that will help bring down the government.
In this scenario, the devaluation raises the costs of imports, fueling
inflation; with higher prices, the currency is more overvalued in real
terms, and another devaluation follows, and so on. As people lose
confidence in the currency, more people exchange their domestic currency
for dollars, building more pressure for devaluation and causing the
country to run out of foreign exchange reserves -- a balance of payments
Of course, to the extent that the opposition can convince people that
this is actually happening, it can help the process unfold -- just as
rumors of insolvency can cause a bank run. In both Venezuela and
Argentina, the media is mostly opposition
and so it is not surprising that these views get prominent coverage in
Let's examine the argument. The first premise -- that Venezuela had to
devalue in order to get more domestic currency (the /bolivar fuerte/)
for each dollar of oil revenue -- has been the foundation of most news
reporting. But this does not make much economic sense. When the
government devalues the currency from 4.3B to 6.3B per dollar, what does
it do? It credits itself with two additional bolivares for each dollar
of oil revenue that it receives.
Of course, it could create the same amount of money, without devaluing;
opponents would object, "but creating money increases inflation."
But the government's creation of two additional bolivares for each
dollar received is also creating money, no different from creating money
without the devaluation. The main difference is that, in addition to any
inflationary impact of creating more money, the devaluation also adds to
inflation by raising the price of imported goods.
Creating money, though, does not always add to inflation. The US Federal
Reserve has created more than $2tn since 2008, and inflation has not
significantly increased. But if the Venezuelan government just wanted to
have more bolivares to spend, it would be less inflationary to just
create the money without the devaluation.
Why devalue, then?
Devaluation has other effects. Although more expensive imports add to
inflation, they also help domestic production that competes with
imports. And, perhaps more importantly, devaluation makes dollars more
expensive, and therefore increases the cost of capital flight. This
helps the government keep more dollars in the country.
Not surprisingly, a lot of what passes for analysis in the press is
based on wrong numbers and flawed logic. The award for wrong numbers
this time goes to Moisés Naím, who writes in the Financial Times
"during Hugo Chávez's presidency, the bolivar has been devalued by 992%."
Fans of arithmetic will note immediately that this is impossible. The
most that a currency could be devalued is 100%, at which point it would
exchange for zero dollars. Apparently, a very wide range of exaggeration
writing about Venezuela, so long as it is negative.
But, for a number of reasons, inflation-devaluation spirals in Latin
America are a thing of the past -- and a devaluation every few years is
a far cry from such a spiral. In fact, despite press reports that
inflation would reach 60%
the January 2010 devaluation -- which was larger than the latest one --
core inflation did not even rise, and headline inflation rose only
temporarily. Inflation then fell for more than two years
even as economic growth accelerated to 5.2% last year.
The amount of inflation that follows this devaluation will depend on
what other measures that the government takes and how effectively they
are implemented: price controls, the provision of dollars for importers
(including food), and capital controls. But if the past few years are
any indication, the government will do what it needs to do in order to
keep inflation and shortages from getting out of hand.
As for Venezuela's public debt, the government is a long way from having
a problem of unsustainable debt. The IMF projects Venezuela's gross
public debt for 2012 at 51.3% of GDP (as compared to more than 90% for
Europe). A better measure is the burden
the foreign part of this debt, which in 2012 was about 1% of GDP, or
4.1% of Venezuela's export earnings.
There are a number of distortions and problems with Venezuela's economy
-- including recurrent shortages -- and some of them have to do with the
management of the exchange rate system. But none of these problems
presents a systemic threat to the economy, in the way that -- for
example -- real estate bubbles in the US, UK, Spain and other countries
did in 2006. Those were truly unsustainable imbalances that made an
economic collapse inevitable.
Despite the wishful thinking that is over-represented in the media,
Venezuela's economy will most likely grow for many years to come, so
long as the government continues to support growth and employment.
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