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The · Psychohistorian

The guns of trade war

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According to Strauss & Howe, the next generational crisis is due around 2020, preceded by a period of protectionism and isolationism. Thus far, Presidents Bush and Obama, despite other faults, have managed to avoid precipitating such a period, despite domestic pressure for protectionism.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, however, may have succeeded in firing the first shot. The Fed's decision to buy $600,000,000,000 in bonds has the effect of devaluing the U.S. dollar, both by directly flooding the market with dollars and by increasing inflation expectations for the U.S.

The action has already drawn a sharp rebuke from German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, among others: Germany, and the E.U. more generally, stand to be hurt as the higher cost of the euro makes E.U. exports less competitive with U.S. exports.

Most of the E.U. has already committed to a course of fiscal austerity, so the E.U. central bank can't respond in kind. A response, if and when it comes, will most likely come in the form of tariffs or other barriers to U.S. agricultural and aerospace exports, delayed by many months.

One could hope that the Fed would realize Bernanke's blunder and reverse it. Unfortunately, the time delays involved are too long for there to be much feedback before the damage is done. In addition, even if the U.S. Treasury tried to ameliorate the mistake by intervening in favor of the dollar, the Fed's ability to print dollars gives it the upper hand.

Schaeuble's reaction:

Reaction from other continents:

Strauss & Howe's book:
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