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The dethroning of the dollar

Jeff Spross
Illustrated | imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
March 9, 2018
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Is the dollar in danger?

On Thursday, President Trump finally followed through on his threats to impose tariffs on most steel and aluminum imports. He did so, he says, to promote what he characterizes as fairer relationships between the United States and its trading partners. "We've been treated so badly over the years by other countries," Trump said at Thursday's signing ceremony.

But one reason America runs persistent trade deficits is that the U.S. dollar is in high demand. This drives up the value of our currency, making our exports more expensive. And one reason the U.S. dollar is in high demand is that it serves as the world's premiere reserve currency. So to get the sort of trade relationships Trump wants, the U.S. dollar might have to be kicked from its throne.

How could that happen?

There are a few possible ways, says Barry Eichengreen, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley and co-author of a book on the topic.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s unpack what a reserve currency means. Basically, whenever two countries trade goods and services, they inevitably trade currencies. But no country controls any currency but their own. That makes it useful to stockpile (i.e. reserve) other currencies for a rainy day (e.g. a financial shock rattles markets or an unforeseen trade crisis strikes).

In theory, everyone should trade in a whole bunch of different currencies. But thanks to many historical factors, most countries just trade with each other using U.S. dollars. Thus, they stockpile dollars, too. As of 2017, almost 64 percent of all foreign exchange reserves were American currency. The euro was in second place at a mere 20 percent. The Japanese yen was way back in third, with less than 5 percent. China's renminbi was just 1.1 percent.

"We talk about the secret sauce that makes for an international currency, with four ingredients," Eichengreen told The Week . "Size, stability, security, and liquidity."

Right now, there's no obvious contender for replacing the U.S. dollar.

Japan, for instance, probably lacks both the sheer scale of GDP and the political or military reach necessary to serve as a reserve currency. And neither of those things will change soon.


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Articles and Publications from the Rabbi



May 9, 2018

Geologists of the Soul

Parshats Behar-Bechukotai; Leviticus 25:1–26:2, Leviticus 26:3–27:34

As Published in the Jewish News

Just in case you were looking forward to this, the last portion of Leviticus is a bit of a downer. Actually, make that a major downer. God tells the Israelites what will happen to them if they follow God’s laws. That part is OK. It is the part about what happens if they do not follow the laws — oy!

Speaking of a downer, a great many people when looking at a gravestone note that what is most significant on that marker is not the date of birth nor the date of death, but the dash, the hyphen between them.

That dash, some have observed, is the lifeline; it is along that dash that people lived and experienced life. It is interesting to note that no matter the span in years between one date and the other, the length of that dash is always the same. I think this is to show that there is fullness and meaning in every person’s life. No matter its span, we can find in every dash the moment or moments that defined and shaped that person. It is the point or points along that dash that define a person, that tell the story of their soul.

The Torah teaches that when God created the world, God created human beings b’tzelem Elohim; in God’s own image. Some may read this passage to mean that we all look like God. But Judaism reads it differently; it is not that we look like God, but that we have the many attributes of God as part of our soul. What makes us different is how we use those God-given abilities to affect the world we live in, the people we encounter in life.

The Midrash teaches that on the sixth day, when God began to create human beings in God’s own image, the angels who had been ministering to God through all of the previous creations complained among themselves. They said one to another, “Should mere mortals be so gifted as to be endowed with the Divine image?”

“No,” they said. “This is not right. We should hide the divine image from humans.”

One of the angels suggested hiding it in the sea, reasoning that the sea was so deep, surely humans would never find it there. Still another suggested hiding it at the top of the highest mountain, close to heaven where the angels could keep an eye on it. But the shrewdest angel dismissed their plans. “The human being,” the angel said, “is ambitious, and will search high and low to find such a treasure. Let us hide it within the soul of every human being. It is the last place in the world a human would think to look.”

In order to follow what God expects of us, we must become as a great rabbi in Jewish tradition called “Geologists of the Soul.” There are great treasures in the soul: There’s faith, there’s love, there’s awe, there’s wisdom, all these treasures you can dig — but if you don’t know where to dig, you dig up mud or you dig up stones. But if you want to get to the gold, which is the awe before God, and the silver, which is the love, and the diamonds, which are the faith, then you have to become a geologist of the soul, you have to know where to dig. We can’t just start poking holes in ourselves or other people and hope to find the treasure within; rather we have to dig carefully, deliberately and intelligently to find that divine image within each of us.

March 14, 2018

What is your particular calling and how are you using it?

Torah Commentary on Parshat Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1–5:26

As Published in the Jewish News

Harvard Business School psychologist Timothy Butler writes: “There are three words that tend to be used interchangeably — and shouldn’t be. They are ‘vocation,’ ‘career’ and ‘job.’ Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it has to do with your calling. It’s what you’re doing in life that makes a difference for you, that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made on the world. A calling is something you have to listen for. You don’t hear it once and then immediately recognize it. You’ve got to attune yourself to the message.”

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