So I’m reading Menzie Chinn’s helpful primer on different ways of calculating real effective exchange rates. And it’s got a bunch of pictures in it like this one, of various real exchange rates between the Indonesian rupiah and the dollar:
What do we see here? Well, when the dollar got strong in the early 1980s, the rupiah fell against it in real terms defined relative to export prices, but much less so in terms of domestic goods as measured by the CPI. Whereas when the rupiah fell in the Asian crisis, the real exchange rate fell whether you measured it by CPI or by export prices, albeit more by the latter. In other words, the strong dollar of the ’80s did not substantially increase American incomes relative to Indonesian, but the fall in the Rupiah in the ’90s did reduce Indonesian incomes relative to American. Interesting!
So when Chinn writes, “there are a number of interesting stylized facts to be gleaned from these figures,” I expect him to say something about these movements. But not a word! Instead, his discussion is all about the CPI-deflated series’ “more pronounced upward trend (or a less pronounced downward trend)” over the long run(the parenthetical is a nice concession to reality). “This pattern is often explained as the outcome of the Balassa-Samuelson model, wherein more-rapid productivity growth in the tradable sector than in the nontradable sector results in a rise in the relative price of nontradables.” So what Chinn sees in these figures is the rather dubious long-run pattern predicted by theory; he doesn’t notice the exciting ups and downs at all. And he’s one of the good ones.
“When the storm is long past, the ocean is calm again…”
EDIT: Now that I think about it, I’ve got the story of the ’80s wrong. The rupiah was pegged at that point, so when the dollar rose, the rupiah rose with it (apart from the two devaluations visible as downward spikes in the graph.) The decline in the export-price deflated series represents Indonesian exporters cutting their own-currency prices to remain competitive in world markets, something that US exporters, for various reasons, did not do. The larger point still holds.