Paul Krugman frets that we are about to witness the mother of all currency crises in emerging markets, and I am afraid that he is right. As I wrote in my previous post, the financial crisis in the developing world has just started and there are indications that it will get a lot, a lot worse. What is different with this phase of the crisis is that it cannot be addressed by governments in the affected countries issuing their own fiscal guarantees and domestic currency. These countries need external lines of credit, and they need it fast before the scale of the problem becomes truly unmanageable.
The solution is clear. The IMF, possibly along with central banks of the G7, has to act as a global lender of last resort to emerging markets. These countries have to have ample access to liquidity in reserve currencies--quickly and with few strings attached--for them to be able to fend off what may otherwise become a historic rout of their currencies. And China should join in: it should make a portion of its near-$2 trillion of reserves available in support of this global enlargement of credit lines.
Emerging markets have every right to say that they are being swept under by a crisis that is not their own doing. But the real reason the rest of the world needs to move on this front is naked self-interest. Combine a deep recession in the advanced countries with an uncontrolled depreciation of emerging-market currencies, and the pressure to erect trade barriers in the U.S. and Europe will be impossible to withstand. A vicious cycle of unemployment and protectionism feeding on each other a la 1930s could transform the deep recession everyone is already expecting into a second great depression. It can get worse...
And with this bit of good news just in, Dominique Strauss-Kahn should have no distractions to prevent him from focusing on this most urgent task. There are some reports that the IMF is moving in this direction. I have a feeling that this will be the make-it-or-break-it week for emerging markets. I hope the IMF will make an announcement in time to make a difference.
UPDATE: Jeff Sachs weighs in on the same topic.