Are Trans-Pacific Currency Manipulators a Real or Perceived Threat?
Recently, a bipartisan group of 60 U.S. senators made headlines with a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The letter urged him to add a clause to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement prohibiting currency manipulation. The senators cited a Peterson Institute study that claimed currency manipulation had cost the United States 5 million jobs. Subsequent discussion of the issue focused on China and Japan as the biggest manipulators. How big is the threat? What should we do about it?
China’s traditional currency manipulation
There is no doubt that China is a currency manipulator in the traditional sense that it treats its exchange rate as an explicit goal of economic policy. It shares this distinction with other countries with currency regimes that are of the “fixed” or “managed float” varieties. We could quibble about which of these categories China belongs to. Its currency regime is less rigidly fixed than, say, the currency boards of Bulgaria and Hong Kong, but less flexible than the managed float of, say, Russia. Either way, as the following map shows, currency manipulators — the light green and blue countries — are clearly in the majority among the world’s economies.
What is at issue, then, is not whether China is a currency manipulator, but rather, how effective its manipulation is and whether and how that manipulation poses a threat to the United States. Over the past three years, I have written a series of posts    arguing that China’s currency manipulation has not been highly effective and that the harm done to the United States is often exaggerated.