So the question is when certain currencies under performs say the SL Rupee or the Zimbabwean Dollar, why wouldn’t the market choose other currency instead? (Economists call this dollarization – replacing a countries currency with currency from another country – e.g. US Dollars) While the Central Bank may have the monopoly authority to print money in Sri Lanka, what stops the market from choosing foreign currencies? Why wouldn’t for example, retailers in Colombo declare, they “now accept Euros, Dollars and Pounds for transactions" and consumers follow suit. After all, most retailers support multiple types of credit cards and modes of payment, why not different currencies? It’s a question I put to FussBudget of LBO, who’s possibly one of the few Sri Lankan economists who’s taking the issue of Inflation head on. Here’s his response:
Deane,Well, whad’ya know, I’m a criminal. Hopefully none of the custom’s chaps read this blog. I have from recently actually kept some of my savings in foreign currencies instead of Rupees.
Good one ! It is legal tender laws that bar you from accepting for payment or keeping foreign currency with you. You are barred from even keeping dollars with you. These exchange control rules were a little relaxed last year. But still you have to deal in Sri Lanka currency and keeping large quantities of foreign currency is still illegal.
Foreign exchange is subject to exchange control as well as customs laws here, and the govt could not only confiscate them and land you in jail but also fine you 300 percent.
By allowing NRFC accounts Sri Lanka slightly relaxed the monopoly on savings in local currency some time ago.
When people keep dollar notes, keep travellers cheques without changing and NRFC accounts it chips away at the note issuing monopoly of a government. (Notes - reserve money - deposits - M2). The liking for foreign currency and the distrust of the local currency is due to the loose monetary policy of the central bank.
However with tighter monetary policy since 1995, when the Central Bank changed from a pure inflationary money printer to something that at least tried to keep inflation in check we have seen a slight change in the situation and confidence increasing in the local currency.
As you know at one time the US banned citizens from holding gold through legal tender laws.
Deane, your friend Ron Paul is asking for competitive currencies inside the US. In the US though gold is no longer illegal to hold, it is still taxed when traded. This makes it less easy to challenge the dollar monopoly.
At the moment we have a 100 percent reserve backed currency. That means if govt wants, they can dollarize Sri Lanka tomorrow and eliminate high inflation.
While the Euro is obviously the best currency to dollarize to keep inflation as low as possible, for purposes of exports it may be better to dollarize with US dollars to prevent a big shock to the industrial sector.
As you know a currency board is also the same as dollarizing in a practical sense - except that we will have notes of a different colour.
If you followed Yugoslavia, there was dollarization with the German mark, when hyperinflation struck. Then you had the situation of currency boards, Euro union etc.
Here the debate about monetary reform has been muted until now. With Steve Hanke also getting into the picture now the 60 years of deception practised by the central bank on the poor of this country is also getting chipped away. [Link to comment. The Links, emphasis in the quote are mine]
I knew there was probably a truck-load of regulation preventing a market-led dollarization from ever happening (in any country, really) but I didn't know the exact provisions in Sri Lanka.
FussBudget’s (who’s real identity I do not know) reference to Ron Paul is an exchange we had before and a few days ago Ron Paul – whom I backed for U.S. president – made a speech in the house floor asking congress to consider the concept of “competing currencies” . Here is a relevant excerpt:
At this country's founding, there was no government controlled national currency. While the Constitution established the Congressional power of minting coins, it was not until 1792 that the US Mint was formally established. In the meantime, Americans made do with foreign silver and gold coins. Even after the Mint's operations got underway, foreign coins continued to circulate within the United States, and did so for several decades.None of this will probably happen for a very long time. But I’m glad the debate has started.
On the desk in my office I have a sign that says: “Don't steal – the government hates competition.” Indeed, any power a government arrogates to itself, it is loathe to give back to the people. Just as we have gone from a constitutionally-instituted national defense consisting of a limited army and navy bolstered by militias and letters of marque and reprisal, we have moved from a system of competing currencies to a government-instituted banking cartel that monopolizes the issuance of currency. In order to introduce a system of competing currencies, there are three steps that must be taken to produce a legal climate favorable to competition. [link] (Emphasis mine)