Archive for February, 2010

Feb 22 2010

Another question from the Help Desk: Relative price levels as a determinant of exchange rates

One feature of Economics in Plain English several students and teachers have found helpful over the years is the Econ Help Desk, where readers can get questions about basic economic concepts answered personally by me.

Recently I received the following email from an AP Macroeconomics teacher in the United States:

I have a question about graphs that illustrate how trade preferences (specifically Supply and Demand shifts), affect P, Q and Pe on Supply-Demand GRAPHS of Currency Exchange.

In teaching my AP Macro students about this concept, I have reached a gap in our full understanding how to graph the Supply and Demand of Yen, or Euro (Price in USD).

For example, if the Price levels rise in the U.S., relative to Japan’s, and consequently, the U.S. demands more Japanese cars and stereos, the only label that we ever see for the x-axis is “Q” or Quantity, or Qe, a vertical line that represents the starting “market clearing price”, of .01USD=1Y. When DEMAND or SUPPLY shifts, the only change that I ever see labeled on the graphs is the Y-Price in USD of Yen, but descriptions simply talk about the Y=1.

When Demand or Supply shifts (in response to increased demand for Yen), and there is a new higher or lower USD Price for Yen, respectively, does the vertical line for Q simply shift outward (continuing to represent Y=1) at whatever the new Price Equilibrium becomes (simply meaning just more “1s” of them in circulation (at each new Pe market-clearing point)?


Here is my response:

Hello, I will try to address your questions below.

Exchange rates can be determined by several factors, including relative price levels, relative interest rates, tastes and preferences of domestic and international consumers, relative income levels at home and abroad and speculation by currency traders. As you say, an increase in the price level of goods produced in United States (say, Fords), ceteris paribus, should lead to an increase in demand among American consumers for goods produced in Japan (say, Hondas), which now appear relatively cheaper. Demand for Yen increases among American households who wish to buy Japanese goods. The USD price of Yen then rises in the Yen market. Since Japanese holders of Yen now receive more USD for each Yen, they will provide more Yen (this is another way of saying with an increase in demand for Yen, the quantity supplied of Yen increases).

Theory would say that there is no increase in the supply of Yen following an increase in Demand by American consumers, only an increase in quantity supplied. The Yen clearly appreciates, as the USD/Yen exchange rate rises. Now, there is another side to this story. The Yen market refers to the market for Yen in the United States. Yen will appreciate in the United States. Simultaneously, USD will depreciate in Japan, as Americans buy more Japanese goods, they are supplying more USD in the USD market in Japan. Here the “price” or the exchange rate is Yen/USD. The Yen price of a USD will fall as the supply of USD increase as Americans exchange their dollars for Yen to buy the relatively cheap Japanese goods.

The “market-clearing price” in forex markets is the exchange rate that prevails in a floating exchanged rate system where exchange rates are determined solely by supply and demand by international consumers, investors, government, banks, and firms. Assume the Yen is trading for $0.01. If , following inflation in the United States and the corresponding increase in demand for Yen, the value of the Yen remained at $0.01, then the quantity demanded for Yen would exceed the quantity supplied. There would be shortages of Japanese goods in the United States, as Japanese goods are in greater demand yet their prices have not risen. In order to “clear the market” so to speak, the exchange rate must rise, to say $0.012. Now, a Yen’s worth of goods “costs” Americans 20% more than previous, making them less attractive over time. Likewise, a dollar’s worth of goods “costs” Japanese consumers 20% less, since the dollar is weaker in Japan.

As you can foresee, the floating value of the Yen should lead to relatively balanced trade between Japan and the US. The US current account will initially move towards deficit as inflation makes American goods more expensive, however, as demand for Japanese goods increases, the value of the Yen rises making Japanese goods more expensive, which will eventually reduce their appeal to American consumers who will once again begin consuming more American goods and importing less. Japanese will notice the weaker dollar makes US imports cheaper and begin importing more American products. The US current account should remain  balanced in the long-run in a floating exchange rate system.

I don’t know if you’ve had a look at my study guides on exchange rates and balance of payments, but those may help clarify graphically what I describe above:

I hope this clarifies your understanding of how relative price levels help determine exchange rates!


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Feb 12 2010

Advice for an aspiring IB Economics Extended Essay author

Published by under China,IB Economics,Trade

It’s that time of the year for IB Economics students all over the world. Time to choose their extended essay topics! The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a rigorous, two-year diploma program for 11th and 12th graders. In addition two three “higher level” courses and three “standard level” courses chosen from each of the six subject areas (maths, physical sciences, social sciences, fine arts, language A and language B), students must also complete a major research project over the two year program. This “extended essay” is externally assessed and counts towards their points and their final diploma score.

As an IB Economics teacher, it is my duty to assist students who choose to write an economics extended essay. This year I will supervise four Zurich International School students, who will be researching topics ranging from the competitive nature of the local fast food market, to Malaysia’s economic policy and the country’s development, to the health insurance industry in Switzerland and Brazil’s coffee market. Helping students fine tune their research topics and refine their essay is an exciting and rewarding process.

This afternoon I received an email from an IB Economics student in Berlin. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear Mr.Welker :

I’m currently an IB Grade 11 student studying at Berlin International School, and i would like to write my extended essay in Economics. Your blog has provided me with so many ideas now that the problems is now i don’t know what to choose or how to narrow it down . My ideas are mainly focusing on China’s economy, because I’m from Taiwan, I thought it would be an advantage for me, since i can understand information if it was written in Chinese.

I’m thinking of writing about the following topics:

  • Limiting factors of China’s economic expansion (inequality, inflation, protectionism from other countries like US, spending and saving habits of the Chinese, export and import) and maybe the possible future of China’s economy, because while some people say it’s going to help lift the global economy out of recession, some say they see an economic crash.( but I’m not sure if as a high school student is able to do that, at the same time I think one of the criterias is to discover something new ? )
  • Another thing i also find interesting is about Chinese currency and how it might solve inflation (I came across this from one of your blog posts about China at May 2008) or what policies do governments use to maintain RMB without buying US exports and the possible effects on other countries as a result of weak Chinese currency

I really can’t decide which one to do, therefore i would really appreciate it if you could advice me and give me some feedbacks. 🙂

Looking forward to your responses !

I was happy to receive an email from such an enthusiastic young economist. Below is my response and advice to the student:


Your ideas are very interesting… it’s impressive as an IB Econ teacher to see a student as thoughtful and reflective on the EE topic as you are. Here are my thoughts on your proposed topics:

I think your first topic would be particularly difficult to research and write a good essay on. In all honesty, not many of the factors that you identify (inequality, inflation, protectionism from other countries like US, spending and saving habits of the Chinese, export and import) have really limited China’s economic growth. China’s growth has been unprecedented in the world in modern history. Inequality could be viewed as a result of the rapid growth the country has experienced; such inequality has been experienced in many countries during their early stages of economic development. Inflation is also a symptom of rapid growth, but in most cases China has keep inflation under control. It has been the lack of protectionism from countries like the US which have led to the massive growth of China’s export industry. If anything, China’s own protectionist policy of managing the value of the RMB at such a low rate has also contributed to its rapid growth.

Even Chinese spending and savings habits have contributed to the growth of the country’s economy. A high savings rate enables the Chinese government to tap the country’s savings to buy US government bonds, which keeps interest rates low in America, the dollar strong, and helps finance the US government’s budget deficits, meaning lower taxes and more disposable income among American consumers who turn around and import hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods every year, further fueling growth in China. With a lower savings rate, China would experience fewer net exports. On the other hand, they’d experience more domestic consumption, which is probably what we should expect to see in the future if Beijing begins to loosens its control of the RMB and allows it to strengthen. Chinese will then begin consuming more of their own output and buying more imports from abroad, while net exports decrease in response to the rising prices of Chinese goods in the west. Domestic consumption will begin to replace exports as domestic savings decreases.

I like your second proposal much better. Since you are in Germany, I would consider researching the effects of China’s exchange rate controls on a particular industry in which both German and Chinese firms compete. I had a student in Shanghai who had a similar background to yours; he was of Chinese descent, but born in Germany. He spoke both German and Mandarin. He researched the impact of China’s low cost automobile parts manufacturers on the German auto parts and automobile industries. He did not focus exclusively on the exchange rate, but it was part of his research.

The IB really likes when you research local markets. If you examine the impact of the weak RMB on, say, US net exports, it’s not nearly as impressive as if you focus your investigation on German firms. You may have friends at your school whose parents work for firms who do business with or compete against Chinese firms. Interview them! You could measure historical exchange rate data between the RMB and the Euro, explain the mechanism by which China manages its currency against the US dollar but then explain how that also affects exchange rates with the Euro, then examine the impact on exports and imports from Germany to China and vis versa in response to the fluctuations of the RMB/Euro exchange rate. America is not the only country that wants China to let the RMB float. Europe’s exports are also affected by the weak RMB.

So that’s my suggestion. Take your two homes (well, not really as you’re Taiwanese, but close enough!) and focus on them. Choose one or two industries that exist in Germany AND China, and research the effects of free trade, China’s entry to the WTO, China’s exchange rate policies, and so on, to draw conclusions about how China’s entry to the global economy has affected firms in Germany.

Good luck, I hope this helps! Click on the “China” category on my blog to find all the dozens of articles I’ve written about China over the last three years!

Mr Welker

32 responses so far

Feb 07 2010

Welker’s Wikinomics Blog’s new name: Economics in Plain English

Published by under Uncategorized

Welker’s Wikinomics Blog was created three years ago as a way to communicate economic ideas and theories in a clear and intelligible way for the high school economics student. Over those three years over 500 posts have been published, nearly 10 Economics teacher have contributed as authors and over 250,000 readers have visited (now up to over 600 per day).  But where did the name Welker’s Wikinomics come from, anyway?

When my adventure in Web 2.0 teaching began over three years ago, there was no blog. At first Welker’s Wikinomics was, not surprisingly, a wiki for my AP and IB Economics students in Shanghai to use as a study tool. But then came the blog, and for lack of a better name, it took on the same name as the wiki. Today the Welker’s Wikinomics name is actually shared by not only the wiki and this blog, but also by the Economics Universe, where econ students and teachers can find RSS feeds from hundreds of resources for learning economics, as well as the free lecture notes I publish here and which have been downloaded thousands of times by Econ students around the world.

Last year I began thinking about changing the name of this blog, as I was never quite satisfied having my blog called “Wikinomics”, since so many visitors to my site have always been confused about the difference between the wiki and the blog. So today I am happy to announce a new name for this blog, Economics in Plain English.

I thought of the new name while writing a blog post recently for which I spent a frustrating hour reading an article from the Economist. While struggling through the difficult article I guessed that most people without at least two years of college economics would have had a hard time understanding what the author was trying to say with all his economics jargon. Why, I thought, aren’t more journalists and academics writing about economics in a way that anyone interested in the subject, whether he be a high school student or a retired grandfather, can understand. Why don’t more people write about economics in plain english!?

Well, that’s precisely what I’ve been trying to do here for three years. So I decided it was the right name for this blog.

From now on this blog can be accessed by going to the URL: The original domain will remain intact, however, since over 500 articles on this blog are still used by myself and other Econ teachers and their hyperlinks must remain active. Welker’s Wikinomics is not disappearing, as my homepage will still be located at Only the blog is getting a new name. The wiki, the universe, and the lecture notes will continue to be part of the Welker’s Wikinomics suite of resources available for econ teachers and students.

As always, if you’re an economics teacher who enjoys what you read here and think you may have something to add, please drop me an email at to receive an author account on this blog. Become a regular contributor and I’ll add your face and bio to the “About the Authors” sidebar! How can you pass that up?

A big thanks to everyone who has visited this blog, read our posts and left a comment over the last few years!

2 responses so far

Feb 05 2010

Economics in plain English: Understanding Argentina’s budget woes

Argentina’s reserves and its debts: Central Bank robbery | The Economist

I received the following email from an Econ teacher who wonders if I had any insight on a question posed by one of his students:

The email reads: “I have alittle query i was hoping you could help clear up for me..a year 13 student has asked a question relating to Argentina’s prime minister, Cristina Fernandezde De Kirchner’s, decision to sell the central bank’s dollar reserves to fund part of the country’s decifit against the advice of the director of the central bank who resigned.”

The student’s question is on the following passage from the Economist article above:

Fernández (Argentina’s president”) justified her raid on the reserves by saying that the Central Bank had more than it needed, because they exceeded the size of the monetary base. Economists disagree about what is an appropriate target for the reserves, but Mr Redrado’s view is that a highly dollarised emerging economy like Argentina’s needs an abundance of Treasury bonds (the form in which most reserves are held) as insurance. Even if Ms Fernández might find support from some economists for her argument, her plan to swap the dollar reserves for a non-transferable government bond would not.

The student’s question is: “I do not know what a monetary base is, nor why Argetina needs treasury bonds.”

This article really caught me off guard at first as well. One thing I love about the Economist newspaper is its use of economic jargon that requires a real understanding of the subject to be able to interpret. The first time I read the article, I will be honest I was completely confused as to what the Argentinean president was up to. But after some reflection and rough sketches of graphs on scrap paper, I think I have “translated” the article’s jargon into plain English.

Below is my reply to the teacher and his student:


The president of Argentina wants to sell the country’s US dollar reserves, which are held in the form of US treasury bonds, and then use the US dollars she receives to buy Argentinean government bonds in order to finance her own government’s budget deficit. In essence she wants to swap Argentina’s central bank reserves of US debt (considered a very stable and safe asset due to America’s low inflation rate and relative solvency of the US government) for Argentinean government debt (less stable and safe, especially in the wake of the country’s 2002 default on its debt). Argentina’s central bank would then hold fewer transferable, stable US bonds and more “non-transferable”, Argentinean government bonds. And since the bonds represent Argentina’s government debt, the country as a whole reduces its assets and increases its liabilities.

It is important for a developing country like Argentina to keep large reserves of US dollar-denominated assets (i.e. US treasury bonds) in reserve in order to assure foreign investors that the country would be able to stabilize its currency’s value in the face of a currency crisis such as that which Argentina experienced in 2001-2002. If the value of the peso began to decline on foreign exchange markets (due, for instance, to a decline in international investor confidence in the government’s ability to pay the interest on its foreign debt or inflation fears caused by excessive monetary growth or government spending) then the central bank could use its large dollar reserves to intervene in the forex market and stabilize the value of the peso, reestablishing investor confidence and maintaining the government’s ability to attract foreign creditors in the Argentinean bond market. A collapse of the peso would have ripple effects throughout Argentina, driving up imported products and raw materials and causing spiraling inflation, forcing the government to print more money to finance its budget in the face of falling demand for its debt in domestic and international bond markets.

Argentina must be sure to keep its balance sheet (i.e. its liability to asset ratio) in check. Its assets are US government bonds, its liabilities are the Argentinean bonds it issues to finance its budget deficits. If this ratio become too heavy on the liability side, foreign investors and speculators will lose confidence in the both peso and the Argentinean government’s solvency and dump their holdings of Argentinean currency, assets, and bonds, driving interest rates through the roof and the exchange rate through the floor, grinding the economy to a halt.

The article says,

Argentina’s economy is on course to rebound this year and grow at 3-5%. But the government is spending money so fast that this growth will not finance current spending on its own, says Daniel Marx, a former finance minister. Ordinarily, a government faced with a shortfall would turn to domestic and international bond markets. But this has been difficult since Argentina defaulted in 2002.

The country cannot count on private creditors to make up its budget shortfall, so the president is planning to finance her country’s deficit by buying Argentinean bonds with the country’s own US dollar reserves. Such behavior concerns economists because it could send a message to international investors that the country is on the path towards another unsustainable build-up of debt that could culminate in another default and economic collapse. The article is a word of caution to the president that all leaders should heed: balanced budgets are a good idea, and debt is dangerous!

3 responses so far

Feb 05 2010

US Exports: the key to job creation? Obama thinks so…

Obamas Efforts To Boost Exports Face Hurdles : NPR

President Obama thinks the key to recovering the millions of American jobs lost during the recession lies in boosting exports to the rest of the world:

The plan sounds great. As we learn in AP and IB Economics, free trade leads to benefits for nations that choose to participate in it. Of course, promoting free trade will harm some industries and workers whose jobs end up being “off-shored” or “out-sourced” to countries with cheaper or more qualified labor; but Obama’s hope is that promoting free trade will result in a net gain of 2 million American jobs.

The goal of doubling US exports in 5 years, however, may be overly ambitious. According to the CIA World Factbook, the US is currently the fourth largest exporter in the world, sending just around $1 trillion worth of goods and services abroad in 2009, behind the EU with $1.9 trillion, China with $1.2 trillion and Germany with $1.18 trillion of exports. Obama’s goal to double US exports would propel the US to the single largest exporting nation in the world, putting it right around where the 27 nations of the European Union are today.

To achieve his goal, Obama proposals include three strategies for boosting demand and supply of US exports.

  • On the supply side he suggests continuing recent guarantees for payment by foreign buyers. Essentially such a scheme reduces the risks that often accompany international commerce, reducing the “costs” of exporting firms, which in essence increases the supply of exports from the US.
  • On the demand side the US must pressure China to revalue its currency. A stronger RMB (and a weaker dollar) will increase China’s demand for US goods and services.
  • Also on the demand side, the US should push through free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia, which have encountered obstacles among US lawmakers who fear that more free trade may actually mean a loss of US jobs.

Free trade agreements, export payment guarantees and a weaker US dollar in China will help Obama reach his goal. Chances are, however, that it will ultimately be unattainable. Doubling US exports would propel the US to the top of the list of exporting countries, surpassing even China, today’s current leader, by $700 billion more than the country exported last year. The impact on US GDP would undoubtedly be enormous, adding upwards of  $1 trillion to the US economy.

Creating jobs through trade is controversial, as many Americans still believe trade is partially to blame for the loss of American jobs in recent years.

“The average voter in the U.S. has been pretty on the fence about whether they want more trade coming into the United States,” Slaughter says. “The income pressures that a lot of households have faced in recent years have sort of shifted that balance where more voters now are a lot more wary of globalization than they used to be.”

While his goal is lofty, Obama is on the right track towards growing the US economy and promoting job creation. Trade benefits Americans not just because it will increase demand for our goods and services abroad, but because it will lead to lower prices for many of the things we enjoy consuming at home, ultimately increasing real incomes in America while also creating jobs.

The graph below presents a simple explanation of how the above strategies can result in more jobs in US export industries.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does China manipulate the value of its currency? Why is such manipulation harmful to US exporters?
  2. How does a government payment guarantee for exporters actually reduce the costs of doing business for US exporting firms?
  3. Do you believe that more free trade agreements with countries like South Korea and Panama will create jobs or destroy jobs in the United States? Explain.

3 responses so far