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Currency exchange rate routines in emerging nations

Exchange rate regimes in emerging nations: A historic monetarist viewpoint

Sebastian Edwards

While today practically every advanced nation has a flexible rates of interest program similar to that promoted by Milton Friedman, many emerging countries continue to have ‘conventional peg’. This column draws on the historical work of Milton Friedman to examine the conditions under which he believed that flexible rates were the ideal system for establishing nations, and when he believed that it was suitable to have an alternative routine.

Recent currency crises in Lebanon, Turkey, and Argentina have actually as soon as again brought to the fore the concern of the optimum currency exchange rate program in an emerging nation. Practically 70 years earlier, Milton Friedman published “The case for versatile currency exchange rate” (Friedman 1953). In it he argued that a system of ‘pegged however adjustable’ parities was highly unstable and made a strong pitch for flexible currency exchange rate programs. The paper, however, dealt specifically with developed nations; it didn’t cover poor or middle-income nations. While today almost every advanced country has a flexible rates of interest routine comparable to the one promoted by Friedman, a lot of emerging countries continue to have ‘standard peg’ (IMF 2019).

An important question to clarify is what Friedman’s views on currency and monetary programs in developing countries were. In a 1973 Congressional testament, Friedman said:” [w] hile I have long favored a system of floating exchange rates for the significant nations, I have never ever argued that is always also the very best system for the developing nations.”

In a recent paper, I examine the evolution of Friedman’s views on monetary and currency exchange rate programs in bad and middle-income nations (Edwards 2020). More particularly, I analyse under what conditions he thought that flexible rates were the ideal system for developing nations, and when he thought that it was suitable to have alternative regimes. Obviously, for Friedman the currency exchange rate and monetary programs were 2 sides of the same question. If a country chose a stringent financial guideline, it needed to have a flexible currency exchange rate. Under a fixed currency exchange rate (and free capital mobility) the amount of money was endogenous (Friedman 1948).

Milton Friedman in India: 1955 and 1963

In 1955, Milton Friedman took a trip to India to advise the Nehru federal government. He prepared a brief memorandum that covered, among other things, the currency exchange rate concern. At the time, forex was allocated and assigned in a discretionary fashion. Friedman composed that there were only 2 ways to handle external imbalances: “First, to pump up or deflate internally in response to a putative surplus or deficit in the balance of payments; 2nd, to allow the exchange rate to fluctuate … [a technique] that has been adopted by Canada with such conspicuous success” (Friedman 1955). He added that if a totally free float was eliminated (for political factors), an auction system was a solid second-best solution. This would permit “purchasers to utilize it for anything they want and in any currency location they want.”

Friedman returned to India in 1965. This time he was especially important of the Bretton Woods’ pegged-but-adjustable program. A simple devaluation, he specified, was not a solution in a country with persistent inflation. In a lecture delivered in Mumbai he said: “The temptation will be to change its [the rupee’s] value from its present level … and after that attempt to hold it at the new repaired level. That would be another error. Even if the brand-new exchange rates are appropriate when developed, when you pegged them, there is no guarantee that they will forever stay right” (Friedman 1968).

The ‘unified currency’ regime

In the early 1970s Milton Friedman’s views on currency programs in emerging nations altered. From that point onward he thought that a flexible rate was a second-best option. His favored exchange rate plan was a currency board, or what he called a ‘unified currency’ regime. He discussed it for the very first time in 1972, when he provided the Horowitz Lectures in Israel. These were published a year later as Cash and Economic Development. This is Friedman’s only (major) deal with the word “development’ in the title.

Halfway through the 2nd Horowitz Lecture, Friedman explained in excellent detail what then ended up being a crucial element in his views relating to currency and monetary programs in developing countries (1973b). According to him, an alternative to a floating exchange rate– and often a favored option– was a ‘unified currency’, or a routine where a bad nation fixes its currency worth irrevocably to that of an innovative nation. He pointed out that such a program had served Hong Kong very well:” [Its] currency [is] closely connected to the British pound sterling. Through a Currency Board, printing paper currency needs the deposit of British currency in stated ratio”.

Friedman criticised, once again, the Bretton Woods system with its regular and big devaluations. Further, he explained that in ‘pegged but adjustable’ programs, when the exchange rate ended up being out of line with its long run equilibrium value, most nations (including Israel and India) tended to adopt exchange controls, and, frequently, a very inefficient several currency exchange rate routine.

Friedman’s conclusion was simple and questionable: “I conclude that the only method to refrain from using inflation as a technique of tax is to avoid having a central bank” (1973 ). He then included: “The reason I relate to a floating rate as a 2nd finest for such a [developing] nation is because it leaves a much bigger scope for government intervention.”

During the Horowitz Lectures, Friedman also resolved the crawling peg. He believed that a system of ‘mini declines’ was a good practical solution for an emerging nation. He stated: “The Brazilian [crawling peg] system is certainly an enhancement over a system in which you keep the exchange rate pegged for long stretches of time … The Brazilian system appears to me better than no attempt to change currency exchange rate however less good than an exchange rate that changes more rapidly” (1973 ).

Currency exchange rate as nominal anchors: Chile and Israel

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a variety of nations relied on repaired exchange rates as a way of controlling extremely rapid inflation. 2 of the best-known cases were Chile and Israel. What made these experiences fascinating was their various results: while Chile ended up in a major crisis in 1982, Israel was successful in stabilising the economy.

In 1994, Friedman published a post comparing both experiences. Friedman begins by explaining that there was an element of luck: instantly after Chile fixed the exchange rate with regard to the United States dollar in 1979, external conditions soured. The dollar enhanced in global markets, and the terms of trade turned versus Chile. In contrast, when Israel repaired the worth of the shekel in 1985, external shocks were beneficial (a drop in the price of oil and a weakening of the dollar). A crucial difference between the two cases was that Israel devalued the shekel by 20% before fixing it relative to the dollar. By doing this, it constructed a ‘cushion’ genuine gratitude to occur without producing overvaluation. Chile instead repaired the currency exchange rate strictly at a time when the peso was already overvalued (in 1979). Even more, while Israel instituted income policies that included a temporary salaries and prices freeze, Chile put in location a backward-looking wage indexation system that, with decreasing inflation, led to automated increases in real salaries. Finally, Israel pegged the exchange rate to the US dollar as a short-term procedure targeted at assisting expectations in the short run. After a few months the shekel was cheapened “at irregular periods to offset the distinction in between the approximately 20% inflation in Israel and the lower inflation in its trading partners” (Friedman 1994). Chile rather revealed that the fixed rate would remain forever, even because of apparent overvaluation, and even if it still left the devaluation alternative open.

Towards completion of this post Friedman wrote: “The reserve bank of Chile was, not surprisingly, unwilling or not able to carry out the extreme deflationary steps that would have been needed to maintain the pegged rate of the peso in 1982” (1994 ). In his 1998 memoirs, he composed: “I have actually consistently taken the position that a county like Chile with a reserve bank should let its currency float. The alternative is to abolish the reserve bank and combine its currency with that of its significant trading partner” (Friedman 1998).

Friedman’s long-lasting influence on currency exchange rate regimes

Friedman’s views on exchange rate and monetary regimes were very influential in the sophisticated nations. In contrast, Friedman’s concepts have been much less prominent amongst establishing countries. In 2018, only 24 developing countries– most of them tiny islands– had what Friedman called a “unified currency program”. According to the IMF (2019 ), in 2018 the most popular program amongst emerging countries continued to be a traditional peg.

There are a variety of possible descriptions for the lack of unified currency programs among establishing countries. Perhaps the most essential one is the lack of modern effective experiences that work as examples of finest practices. The failure of Argentina’s try out a currency board (between 1991 and 2001) produced terrific suspicion regarding the benefits of very fixed routines (Bluestein 2006, Edwards 2010). A lot of the causes behind the collapse of the Argentine experiment were connected to issues raised by Milton Friedman throughout the years. For example, in spite of carrying out a currency board, the central bank was not abolished. Beginning in 1995, it began to relax its functional guidelines, and credit was created with a reduced backing of hard currency. Fiscal policy was pro-cyclical, and deficits, primarily driven by provincial profligacy, grew considerably with time. In addition, incomes were not versatile enough regarding permit relative cost changes (or internal decline) when it was required. After ten years of a fixed currency exchange rate at one peso per United States dollar, the parity was abandoned in early 2002. By 2003, Argentina’s economy remained in chaos and the credibility of monetary regimes based upon combined currencies and currency boards suffered a severe blow.


Blustein, P (2006 ), And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out) Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina, Public Affairs.

Edwards, S (2010 ), Left, University of Chicago Press

Edwards, S (2020 ), “Milton Friedman and Currency exchange rate in Emerging Nations,” NBER Working Paper 27975.

Friedman, M (1948a), “A financial and fiscal framework for financial stability”, American Economic Evaluation XXXVIII.

Friedman, M (1953 ), “The Case for Flexible Exchange Rates”, in M Friedman (ed), Essays in Favorable Economics, University of Chicago Press, pp. 157-203.

Friedman, M (1955 [1992], “The India Memorandum”, in S Roy and W E James (eds) Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards a Program for the 1990s, Sage Publications.

Friedman, M (1963 [1968], “Inflation: Causes and Repercussions” in M Friedman, “The Council for Economic Education, Asia, Bombay”, reprinted Dollars and deficits: inflation, financial policy and the balance of payments, Prentice-Hall.

Friedman, M (1973a), Money and Economic Development: The Horowitz Lectures of 1972, Praeger Publishers.

Friedman, M (1973b), “Statement and Statement”, in US Congress, Joint Economic Committee, Hearings before Subcommittee on International Economics, How Well are Fluctuating Exchange Rates Working?, pp. 114-120.

Friedman, M (1992 ), “Chile and Israel: Identical policies– Opposite results”, in M Friedman (ed) Cash Mischief: Episodes in Monetary History, Harcourt Brace Jovnovich.

Friedman, M and R D Friedman (1998) 2 Lucky People. Memoirs, The University of Chicago Press.

IMF (2019) Annual report on exchange plans and exchange constraints 2018, Washington DC.

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