The International Trilemma – Is it an answer to India’s FX Depreciation?

Exchange Money Conversion to Foreign Currency

The International Trilemma was first found by Mundell and Flemming. The trilemma is for a country to maintain integration, regulation and sovereignty.

  1. Integration: Implies a free flow of goods, services and capital into and out of the country. (ie. integration with the world markets.)
  2. Regulation: A freedom to decide the forex rate, that is keeping a constant forex rate or pegging it with another currency.
  3. Sovereignty: Implies the independence of the Central Bank of a country to decide on the money supply in the economy.

The trilemma is primarily that a country can choose any 2 of the above and regulate the same. Managing all three is not possible and creates disequilibrium in the economy. For example if a country chooses Integration and Regulation, then it cannot maintain money supply. Say the country reduces its interest rates to increase the money supply in the economy in an attempt to fuel growth. As the interest rates have fallen, capital flight will occur as capital will go to countries offering relatively higher interest rates. Demand for forex will increase, which would put depreciatory pressure on the domestic currency rate. If the exchange rate is fixed, then a disequilibrium situation occurs and the government will require selling massive amounts of forex to support the exchange rates. The government may try to control capital flights by way of imposing foreign exchange norms, thus reducing the level of integration with the world economy.

As we have seen above, a country may only control any 2 of the 3 parameters. In the present situation of India, the government is trying to control all the above 3 parameters viz. Maintain exchange rates, ease capital flows and control money supply. As Indian economy needs to be fuelled and inflation has tempered, the central bank is reducing interest rates, which in turn increases capital flight and therefore depreciating the currency. Stepping-in of the central bank for selling forex will not rectify the disequilibrium situation but only deplete the reserves. Exchange controls or increasing interest rates could be a possible solution as per the Mundell-Flemming model.

In the words of Paul Krugman “The point is that you can’t have it all: A country must pick two out of three. It can fix its exchange rate without emasculating its central bank, but only by maintaining controls on capital flows (like China today); it can leave capital movement free but retain monetary autonomy, but only by letting the exchange rate fluctuate (like Britain – or Canada); or it can choose to leave capital free and stabilize the currency, but only by abandoning any ability to adjust interest rates to fight inflation or recession (like Argentina today)”[i]


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