GINN & BEAUCHAMP: If The Dollar Loses Its Reserve Status, Kiss Your Middle-Class Lifestyle Goodbye

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The U.S. dollar will likely soon lose its status as the global reserve currency. The dollar’s global reserve dominance has declined in recent years. As a result,  international trade partners are hedging new connections. This will restructure the global economic order and create challenges ahead, especially for middle-class Americans.

Americans should know what’s happening and how they can prepare for this possibility. But first, what does it mean to be the world’s global reserve currency, and why does it matter? 

The U.S. Dollar is the dominant global reserve currency. It’s widely accepted and is the preferred medium of exchange for international transactions. The dollar has enjoyed this status for the past 80 years due to its strong reputation acquired across a long history of America’s rising military prowess, fulfilling its financial obligations, and maintaining a strong economy.

These institutional foundations of the dollar created high demand among foreign entities. One of the most important transactions utilizing the dollar is the purchase of oil. Oil is currently priced in dollars globally and other dollar-denominated assets. Losing or weakening the dollar’s position and value results in higher oil prices. 

The dollar’s elevated demand has helped keep its value high relative to other currencies. This prompted many countries to tie their currency directly to our dollar. The U.S. benefited by leveraging foreign demand for dollars into loans to the U.S. federal government. Foreign investors lend the U.S. high volumes of money because of the debt’s dollar denomination. 

The higher demand for U.S. Treasury securities pushes down domestic interest rates. This influences lower rates on mortgages and business loans, which help provide increased investment and economic growth. Losing or weakening the dollar’s reserve position will result in increased interest rates, decreased investment, and weak to negative economic growth. 

The dollar’s reserve status has also meant an increased volume of international trade. Ultimately, international trade helps keep interest rates and inflation moderately low. Losing or weakening the dollar’s reserve position will result in increased inflation. 

Trouble for the dollar is on the horizon. 

The once-givens about the dollar have come into question recently due prominently to excessive deficit spending. Foreign investors are reducing their demand for dollars as they diversify their portfolios. This combination contributed to the ballooning of the debt, depreciated the dollar, led to higher inflation and falling year-over-year real average weekly earnings for 25 straight months, and drove up interest rates, thereby slowing economic activity. 

Of course, this will have tradeoffs and many of them won’t be good.

As mentioned, the major tradeoffs will be higher inflation and interest rates. The latter will trigger a move by the Federal Reserve to attempt to lower interest rates. But if its target rate is held below what markets dictate, the Fed will monetize the debt, increase the money supply, and drive inflation higher. The long-term result will be even higher interest rates to tame inflation.

Unfortunately, the consequences of higher interest rates and inflation would be severe. People should expect higher mortgage rates than the already rising average rate of 6.4%. This is the highest in 15 years. Ultimately, higher interest rates would result in a steeper contraction in the housing market, exacerbate economic weakness, increase job losses, and worsen poverty.

But maybe more importantly, it would likely crush middle-class Americans and the lifestyle that they’ve been accustomed to having for decades. The higher cost of shelter, food, gasoline, and energy as the dollar loses its reserve currency status would wreck havoc on their budgets and force major decisions about what’s best for their families. This could mean having to put off saving for college, going on vacations, and living in much smaller homes. 

All because our government couldn’t spend our money wisely. Therefore, the government should take serious steps to restore confidence in the dollar before a bad situation for Americans becomes worse or irreconcilable.

To start, the federal government should reduce deficit spending. The long-term goal should be a balanced budget and an eventual start to paying down the debt. This will be pro-growth as the government stops redistributing taxpayer money from productive to unproductive activities. It will also strengthen the fiscal and economic situation of the U.S. The result will be an improvement in foreigners’ outlook on the dollar that would help preserve the dollar’s status.

Dollar-focused policies should be tied to reducing the money in circulation. This should occur as the Federal Reserve reduces its balance sheet. Doing so tames inflationary pressures and could even result in some disinflation. This would allow the hard-earned dollars of Americans to go further than they do today. 

These policy improvements should be put into law with fiscal and monetary policy rules. The rules should remove the discretion of big-government spenders and printers. This would enable people’s livelihoods to get back on track and improve for generations.    

The potential loss of the dollar’s reserve currency status could have significant economic consequences, and there are even more than highlighted here. There is, however, reason for optimism: The U.S. economy is resilient and adapts well to challenges. But will those in D.C. allow for that to happen in the dynamic marketplace? Time will tell. But let’s hope so before it’s too late for middle-class Americans and everyone else to have the opportunity to fulfill their hopes and dreams.

Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is founder and president of Ginn Economic Consulting, LLC, host of the “Let People Prosper” podcast, chief economist or senior fellow at think tanks across the country, and the former chief economist of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. He resides in Round Rock, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @VanceGinn

Charles Beauchamp, Ph.D., CTP®, is an associate professor of finance at Mississippi College and a contributing fellow at the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.