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The unsustainable U.S. current account position revisited

  • Maurice Obstfeld
  • Kenneth Rogoff

We show that the when one takes into account the global equilibrium ramifications of an unwinding of the US current account deficit, currently running at nearly 6% of GDP, the potential collapse of the dollar becomes considerably larger (more than 50% larger) than our previous estimates (Obstfeld and Rogoff 2000a). It is true that global capital market deepening appears to have accelerated over the past decade (a fact documented by Lane and Milesi-Ferreti (2005) and recently emphasized by US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan), and that this deepening may have helped allowed the United States to a record-breaking string of deficits. Unfortunately, however, global capital market deepening turns out to be of only modest help in mitigating the dollar decline that will almost inevitably occur in the wake of global current account adjustment. As the analysis of our earlier papers (2000a, b) showed, and the model of this paper reinforces, adjustments to large current account shifts depend mainly on the flexibility and global integration of goods and factor markets. Whereas the dollar’s decline may be benign as in the 1980s, we argue that the current conjuncture more closely parallels the 1970s, when the Bretton Woods system collapsed. Finally, we use our model to dispel some common misconceptions about what kinds of shifts are needed to help close the US current account imbalance. For example, faster growth abroad helps only if it is relatively concentrated in nontradable goods; faster productivity growth in foreign tradable goods will actually exacerbate the U.S. adjustment problem.

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Volume (Year): (2005)
Issue (Month): ()
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfpr:y:2005:x:16
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  1. Maurice Obstfeld and Kenneth Rogoff., 2000. "The Six Major Puzzles in International Macroeconomics: Is There a Common Cause?," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers C00-112, University of California at Berkeley.
  2. Lane, Philip R. & Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria, 2004. "Financial Globalization and Exchange Rates," CEPR Discussion Papers 4745, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Joseph E. Gagnon, 2007. "Productive Capacity, Product Varieties, and the Elasticities Approach to the Trade Balance," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(4), pages 639-659, 09.
  4. Cedric Tille, 2003. "The impact of exchange rate movements on U.S. foreign debt," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 9(Jan).
  5. Maurice Obstfeld & Kenneth Rogoff, 2000. "Perspectives on OECD economic integration : implications for U.S. current account adjustment," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 169-208.
  6. Robert J. Gordon, 2004. "Two Centuries of Economic Growth: Europe Chasing the American Frontier," NBER Working Papers 10662, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, & Philip R. Lane, 2003. "International Financial Integration," The Institute for International Integration Studies Discussion Paper Series iiisdp03, IIIS.
  8. Lane, Philip & Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria, . "External Wealth of Nations," Instructional Stata datasets for econometrics extwealth, Boston College Department of Economics.
  9. Hilary Croke & Steven B. Kamin & Sylvain Leduc, 2005. "Financial market developments and economic activity during current account adjustments in industrial economies," International Finance Discussion Papers 827, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  10. Michael P. Dooley & David Folkerts-Landau & Peter Garber, 2003. "An Essay on the Revived Bretton Woods System," NBER Working Papers 9971, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Charles Engel, 1999. "Accounting for U.S. Real Exchange Rate Changes," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(3), pages 507-538, June.
  12. Gourinchas, Pierre-Olivier & Rey, Hélène, 2005. "International Financial Adjustment," Center for International and Development Economics Research, Working Paper Series qt124628cx, Center for International and Development Economics Research, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  13. Gian-Maria Milesi-Ferretti & Philip R. Lane, 1999. "The External Wealth of Nations; Measures of Foreign Assets and Liabilities for Industrial and Developing Countries," IMF Working Papers 99/115, International Monetary Fund.
  14. Sebastian Edwards, 2005. "Is the U.S. Current Account Deficit Sustainable? And If Not, How Costly is Adjustment Likely To Be?," NBER Working Papers 11541, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Cedric Tille, 2005. "Financial Integration and the Wealth Effect of Exchange Rate Fluctuations," 2005 Meeting Papers 282, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  16. Sebastian Edwards, 2004. "Thirty Years of Current Account Imbalances, Current Account Reversals, and Sudden Stops," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 51(s1), pages 1-49, June.
  17. Campa, Jose M. & Goldberg, Linda S., 2002. "Exchange rate pass-through into import prices: A macro or micro phenomenon?," IESE Research Papers D/475, IESE Business School.
  18. Alejandro Izquierdo & Ernesto Talvi & Guillermo A. Calvo, 2002. "Sudden Stops, the Real Exchange Rate and Fiscal Sustainability: Argentina's Lessons," Research Department Publications 4299, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  19. Catherine L. Mann, 1999. "Is the U.S. Trade Deficit Sustainable?," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 47, March.
  20. Michael P. Dooley & David Folkerts-Landau & Peter Garber, 2004. "The revived Bretton Woods system," International Journal of Finance & Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 9(4), pages 307-313.
  21. repec:cto:journl:v:24:y:2004:i:1-2:p:1-11 is not listed on IDEAS
  22. Maurice Obstfeld & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2005. "Global Current Account Imbalances and Exchange Rate Adjustments," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 36(1), pages 67-146.
  23. Alejandro Izquierdo, 2002. "Sudden Stops, the Real Exchange Rate and Fiscal Sustainability in Argentina," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 25(7), pages 903-923, 07.
  24. Maurice Obstfeld & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 1996. "Foundations of International Macroeconomics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262150476, June.
  25. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521633178 is not listed on IDEAS
  26. Sebastian Edwards, 2004. "Thirty Years of Current Account Imbalances, Current Account Reversals and Sudden Stops," NBER Working Papers 10276, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  27. Alan Greenspan, 2004. "The Evolving U.S. Payments Imbalance and Its Impact on Europe and the Rest of the World," Cato Journal, Cato Journal, Cato Institute, vol. 24(1-2), pages 1-11, Spring/Su.
  28. Warnock, Francis E., 2003. "Exchange rate dynamics and the welfare effects of monetary policy in a two-country model with home-product bias," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 343-363, June.
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