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The pound without a G-string

The time may have come for Britain to adopt the euro

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

Nearly eight decades after the pound went off the Gold Standard, has the time come for to consider whether it needs the pound at all? Britain’s euro-sceptics have congratulated themselves ever since they rejected then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s abortive attempt to get the pound replaced by the euro, a move that the then chancellor of the exchequer and present Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, had opposed. Indeed, Britain’s euro-sceptics may feel vindicated today as they watch Ireland go into a spin over the decline in its competitiveness vis-à-vis the US because of a strengthening (which Dublin had accepted as its currency, replacing the Irish pound). But how long will hold out in the name of its financial district, the City, and because of its desire to remain a global financial centre? Last week’s Irish vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, affirming the country’s support for a European Constitution by another name, brings Ireland closer to the European Union at a popular level, even though has also signed onto the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish have demonstrated less discomfort in accepting their European status. Britain’s island mentality may not fit very well with the European integration process, but the City will have to take note of the US’ kite-flying exercise in Istanbul, on a likely four-currency group—yet another ‘G’ to string China along!

An unidentified US participant at the ministers’ meeting in Istanbul has been reported as saying that the US could consider forming a smaller group within the G-20 to take forward the work of the increasingly anachronistic G-7. The G-7 was the ‘management committee of the global economy’ in the old days of the North-South divide. With the eclipse of the G-7 by the G-20, even the US has recognised that it needs a smaller ‘executive committee’ of the ‘management committee’. Who would the US want in such a core group of the world’s key economies? It seems to regard Europe, Japan and China as natural claimants to membership. Hence the suggestion that a G-4 be formed with the managers of the US dollar, the euro, the yen and the yuan working together to ensure stable conditions in global currency markets. This is undoubtedly a concession to China, which has aggressively pushed for a larger global role for the yuan. The US needs China to play ball to come out of the global imbalances trap and is, therefore, willing to co-opt it.

Where does this leave and the pound? A bit lost, and nervous, perhaps. British spokespersons have rubbished the idea of a G-4 and the US has officially denied any such move. But the writing on the wall for the pound is clear. Go along with the euro, like the Irish and the rest, or join the likes of the ‘has-been’ rouble and the ‘wannabe’ rupee! The idea that the dollar, the euro, the yen and the yuan belong to a special club to which the pound will not be invited must be galling. But this moment was coming, as the once pivotal pound lost its sterling edge three-quarters of a century ago.

First Published: Thu, October 08 2009. 00:51 IST