Opinion: Dollar bills, yo!

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Zachary Schuster

Take out your wallet and pull out a dollar bill (don’t give me that “poor college student” schtick). Now take that dead president and cut off one-fourth of it. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but what you have left is how much the dollar is currently worth against the euro.

The only Americans who ever think about the exchange rate are those who travel abroad. Unfortunately, watching the exchange rate is like a cruel game of limbo with University alumna Suze Orman chanting, “How low can it go?” And for Americans in the United States, a dollar is still a dollar, and there are more important things to attend to.

Final exams might be the big source of stress for most students, but for me, the performance of the dollar has my nerves a little frayed. We take it for granted that the dollar is stable and that the United States is the center of the economic universe. But as the economies of China and Europe continue to gain strength, the dollar might be supplanted as the benchmark for foreign currencies.

Now, the dollar’s performance certainly affects Americans more than fluctuations in the value of the Nepalese rupee. Those students traveling abroad this winter break or studying abroad next semester will undoubtedly be looking for someone to blame when they realize that every euro they spend costs $1.35. And while I really don’t enjoy being a Bush-bashing liberal, unfortunately, I must. The reason why the dollar is in the proverbial crapper is because of the fiscal policy of President Bush.

The dollar is weakening because of international concerns about our country’s out-of-control trade and budget deficits. It turns out that cutting taxes and then starting a really expensive war with Iraq has led to spending money that – *gasp* – we don’t have. When that happens, investors lose confidence in the dollar, causing its value to fall.

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I, for one, am not really surprised that President Bush has given the United States such a large budget deficit. The guy has never earned a real dollar in his entire life. After emerging from his reckless youth (which lasted until about 40), President Bush was given his very own oil company. When things didn’t go well there, daddy gave him a baseball team. When he traded Sammy Sosa … well, you get the picture.

It would be like having a spoiled suburban kid like myself balancing your checkbook. Bad idea. Being the spoiled rich kid that he is, when President Bush needs money, he just uses his giant credit card. The thing is, mommy and daddy aren’t filling up his bank account anymore. One result of this deficit spending has been the weakening of our currency.

So why is the weak dollar important to the stressed-out college student? In all things, especially the world economy, balance is important. It’s great that foreign tourists are pumping their rupees into the American economy, but European imports now are more expensive, and products purchased in Europe are that much more expensive as well.

Perhaps that handmade Swiss cuckoo clock you were going to buy your father for Christmas is suddenly out of your price range. Or if you travel to Europe, you won’t have enough money to buy souvenirs such as the oft-coveted Popener for your friends. If the clockmaker and Popener vendor are forced out of business, then they don’t have money to buy U.S. imports. And then U.S. businesses make less money. Wow, economics really hurts my head!

Is it too much to ask for a fiscally responsible president and a balanced budget? It seems to me that everyone would benefit from an equal exchange rate between the dollar and the euro. Americans could buy their Popeners, and European small-business owners would not have to get a job at the local Wal-Mart. Everybody would win.

Zachary Schuster is a senior in engineering. His column runs Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected].