The Value of the Pound Is Not a Measure of the Success or Failure of Brexit

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[ Dean Baker | October 08, 2016 |Beat the Press]

The Brexit vote was a case where the elites were clearly aligned against the U.K. leaving the European Union. While they had many good arguments on their side, and much of what the pro-Brexit crew was saying was nonsense, some of the elite gloating now also falls into the nonsense category.

In particular, the fall in the British pound is being taken as evidence that Brexit was a mistake. Actually, this is not really evidence of anything. The pound had become seriously over-valued in recent years causing the U.K. to run a current account deficit that is projected to be almost 6.0 percent of GDP for 2016. This is almost certainly not sustainable. The current account deficit also leads to a large gap in demand, which at the moment appears to be filled primarily by demand generated by a housing bubble.

Note that this is an economic quagmire created by the British elite: the establishment folks running the Bank of England and the Treasury Department. The Brexiters had nothing to do with it.

The correction for an excessive current account deficit is a fall in the value of the currency, which the U.K. is seeing now. Rather than being a negative for the economy, this is a positive development. It is the only plausible mechanism through which the U.K. can get closer to balanced trade. While the decline has undoubtedly been hastened by fears over Brexit, the bigger problem was letting the pound get so over-valued in the first place.

It is also worth noting that if the value of the pound is measured relative to the euro rather than the dollar, which is arguably the more appropriate yardstick, the pound has not fallen that sharply. It is still well above the lows it hit relative to the euro in 2008 and 2009.

As the U.K. loses part of its financial industry in the fallout from Brexit, it will need increased output in other areas to fill the gap created. A lower-valued pound would be an important part of this story. A lower-valued pound will make a wide range of U.K. produced goods and services more competitive internationally, reducing the size of the country's trade deficit.

The long and short is that anyone who thinks the falling pound is the best evidence of the foolishness of Brexit doesn't have a very good argument for their position.

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