Don Luskin is right about how a “strong” – i.e., appreciating – dollar is not in itself a good thing. But neither is current dollar weakness, because with fiat currency everything that pols and central bankers say takes on excessive, even superstitious significance that can be economically destructive.
There’s no way around it. Any verbal fart by a major official could be the first indication of a policy change. Vague talk by treasury secretaries that weakens the dollar is therefore just as bad in its own way as are deflationary policies that keep the dollar appreciating. Nobody would care what Snow or Greenspan – or James Baker – said, if the U.S. Govt’s established (ideally, legislated) policy had been to maintain the money supply such that the price of gold stayed in a range of, say, $345-355/oz.
Even when a discretionary currency regime seems to work well, there’s a strong risk that eventually the people in charge, being people, will overdo it and screw things up. That’s why investors are not unreasonable to fear that the Bush administration may, in a shortsighted political attempt to aid big-business exporters or otherwise boost the economy before an election, or even to punish Europe, be going overboard in weakening the dollar. Sure, Bush said that he doesn’t want a weaker dollar, but he wouldn’t have said that if there weren’t a problem.
And even in a discretionary-policy environment it’s possible for officials to have enough sense to keep their mouths shut. Clinton and Rubin seemed to understand this, while Bush and Snow apparently do not. That’s reason enough for dollar-holding investors to be nervous.
Currently the dollar seems to be stalled in a range of 1.17-1.19 Euros. We’ll know soon enough whether we’ve seen the bottom.