WASHINGTON — The president of the World Bank said on Monday that America’s days as an unchallenged economic superpower might be numbered and that the dollar was likely to lose its favored position as the euro and the Chinese renminbi assume bigger roles.
“The United States would be mistaken to take for granted the dollar’s place as the world’s predominant reserve currency,” the World Bank president, Robert B. Zoellick, said in a speech at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. “Looking forward, there will increasingly be other options to the dollar.”
Mr. Zoellick, who previously served as the United States trade representative and as deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush, said that the euro provided a “respectable alternative” for financing international transactions and that there was “every reason to believe that the euro’s acceptability could grow.”
In the next 10 to 20 years, he said, the dollar will face growing competition from China’s currency, the renminbi. Though Chinese leaders have minimized their currency’s use in international transactions, largely so they could keep greater control over exchange rates, Mr. Zoellick said the renminbi would “evolve into a force in financial markets.”
The World Bank, which is financed by governments around the globe and lends money primarily to poor countries, has no say over the economic policies of large nations or over currency matters.
But Mr. Zoellick’s comments were unusual, in part because he seemed intent on being provocative. He argued that the United States and a handful of other rich nations could no longer dominate the world economy and suggested that America was losing its clout. He also took issue with a central piece of the Obama administration’s proposal regarding the country’s financial regulatory system.
“The greenback’s fortunes will depend heavily on U.S. choices,” Mr. Zoellick said. “Will the United States resolve its debt problems without a resort to inflation? Can America establish long-term discipline over spending and its budget deficit?”
Mr. Zoellick criticized President Obama’s plan to put the Federal Reserve in charge of reducing “systemic risk” and to regulate institutions considered too big to fail. Saying that Congress had become uneasy about the Fed’s exercise of emergency powers to bail out financial institutions and prop up credit markets, Mr. Zoellick argued that the Treasury rather than the Fed should get more power because the Treasury was more accountable to Congress.
“In the United States, it will be difficult to vest the independent and powerful technocrats at the Federal Reserve with more authority,” Mr. Zoellick said, adding that “the Treasury is an executive department, and therefore Congress and the public can more directly oversee how it uses any added authority.”