Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dark Comedies in Crisis Time

These are the times of dark comedy. They make you laugh out loud, and deeply sad at the same time. Even the best New Year's Movie wouldn't have scripted it. (This year's Chinese New Year's Movie, If You Are The One wasn't very good.)

From CNN, the story of Chinese mistress contest taking tragic turn:

A married Chinese businessman who could no longer afford five mistresses held a competition to decide which one to keep.


When the economy soured, the businessman apparently decided to let go of all but one mistress.

He staged a private talent show in May, without telling the women his intentions. An instructor from a local modeling agency judged the women on the way they looked, how they sang and how much alcohol they could hold, the Shanghai Daily said.

The judge knocked out Yu in the first round of the competition based on her looks. Angry, she decided to exact revenge by telling her lover and the four other women to accompany her on a sightseeing trip before she returned to her home province, the media reports said.

It was during the trip that Yu reportedly drove the car off the cliff.

If you think only laymen are able to provide laughs, you would be wrong.

Zhang Weiying, a prominent Chinese Economist who got his degree from Oxford and a proponent of market reforms, suggests solving China's consumption stimulus problem by giving each citizen a share of the massive foreign reserve. All government assets really belongs to the people anyway, he was quoted saying in open talks, so if we give it back to the people, maybe they can spend it as they see fit.

Hold on, Prof. Zhang, do you really understand what Foreign Reserve is? Official foreign reserve, although sounds like government asset, doesn't really belongs to the government. Every time someone, say an exporting company, brings in foreign currency, like Dollar, and he exchange it with the central bank to domestic currency creates foreign reserve. China has massive foreign reserve only because the central bank forces companies to sell most of foreign exchange holdings to the central bank, and China exports far more than imports. So, although those reserves are "official", they don't really belong to the government. For every reserve deposit that is created on the central bank's balance sheet, there is debt to the private sector in RMB created. If you were to everyone a share of the reserve, and he/she was about to spend it, which requires converting into domestic currency, you would end up creating money twice. Stimulating? Yes. But what a wonderfully messy world would it be.

Not to mention, the U.S. government and the whole financial world would be in panic. In normal times, it actually makes sense to leave the foreign currency and thus risk management decision in the private hands. But, not in crisis times. Imagine now again, an average person is allotted a share of $10,000. He would worry about the value of those dollar immediately. Now, given all the jittery about Dollar, and prospects of the U.S. bailout programs, he would most likely want to exchange at least a large share of that into RMB just to be safe. Since, nobody is stupid, they all know others have the same worry, the best way to preserve value is to run ahead of everyone else in selling dollar. Bam! you created equivalent of bank runs in exchange rate market. On the contrary, the current arrangement, however unsound it was before, has advantage of stability. The Chinese Central Bank has to taken into account the loss of value on their remaining large holdings when it plans to sell dollar.

Mr Zhang's suggestion seems to deserve a hearty laugh. But considering he is one of government's hey advisers, it is actually far less amusing.

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