Vice President of Analysis Peter Zeihan explains how the U.S. dollar's position as the global reserve currency makes default impossible and why the euro and yuan cannot currently assume the role.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy. Ultimately a credit ratings agency's assessments of a country are based in how sustainable the country's budgeting processes are. Now the United States — it's not that great; between the Bush administration and the current Obama administration, American finances are certainly on an unsustainable course. Tax revenues are relatively high right now, but with the baby boomers about to retire, they'll be taking their tax income with them. Spending is high and is showing few signs of being brought under control either by this administration or by Congress. There aren't a lot of options for rationalizing the budget: You could drastically increase the retirement age; you could do away with some sort of social benefits, such as social security; you could sharply raise taxes. All of these are political non-starters; they're all political suicide. So by the books, yes, the United States deserves a downgrade — maybe more than one. But ultimately that's irrelevant. In the case of United States, default is absolutely impossible. All U.S. government debt is denominated in U.S. dollar assets. The U.S. dollar is the global currency. The U.S. Federal Reserve controls U.S. dollar policy. So long as this is the case, it's absolutely impossible to default on the debt. Luckily for the Americans, there is absolutely no currency out there that is within a generation of replacing the United States dollar as the global currency. Let's examine why that is the case. First, let's look at the euro. The euro is certainly the currency that is the closest to displacing the U.S. dollar as the global currency. But if you look at the events of the last couple of years, you'll notice that the Europeans have been in a nonstop financial crisis, honestly, since before the global recession even began back in mid-2008. Nearly all of the Continent's banks are not only unstable but they've now become interlinked to the currency and the sovereign debt problems that have been racking the Europeans for the last several months. They have convinced their banks to purchase large volumes of sovereign debt — in essence doubling down, throwing the good private assets against the bad government assets. The only way that the euro can seriously be considered a global currency is if the euro manages to get through this crisis in one piece willingly. But that requires 26 states consciously signing over their sovereignty to another country — not very likely. Next comes the Chinese yuan. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, the Chinese yuan is not even convertible — it's not even a hard currency, you can't take it out of the country, it's not accepted as legal tender anywhere in the world except for mainland China. Second, as manipulated as the Japanese yen is, the Chinese yuan is even more so. In the past three years, the Chinese have printed the equivalent of $5 trillion U.S. dollars in Chinese yuan in order to maintain their subsidized credit system. Without this they wouldn't be able to maintain the loan structure — subsidized loan structure — that keeps their entire export economy going. Third, the currency policy is a peg to the U.S. dollar, so the Chinese have zero currency risk. They know that the Americans will buy at X price, so they maintain the rate right there. Should the yuan fully float, all of a sudden it would be rising and falling with various trade balances. That means that the Chinese exporters would no longer have reliability in their trade negotiations — they wouldn't be able to guaranteed pricing — and that would probably drive a great many of them out of business right off the bat. You make the yuan the global currency and all of a sudden the Chinese currency is volatile because of its connections to the oil and the corn markets, for example, and you're going to be dealing with mass bankruptcies across the entire Chinese industrial base. Shortly after that, you will have mass unemployment and the social instability that the Chinese government has always feared. Fourth, they know that the real power in the system comes from the consumer, not the producer, and so long as the Chinese economy is one of exporters and not importers, they can't stomach the burden of the global currency. They need to stay linked to a much larger system, and for the foreseeable future that system is going to be the American one. From a bookkeeping point of view, Standard & Poor's is absolutely right. U.S. spending policies are out of control; they're not showing any sign of being fixed in the near future. That said, the U.S. is a special case because it is a country that can manipulate the currency policy of the entire global system for its own benefit, and as we've seen in the past, the Federal Reserve really doesn't have a problem doing that.