A recently declassified, formerly Confidential, 30 year old memo prepared by Henry Owen for President Jimmy Carter's eyes only, highlights the perils facing the United States if oil were to be priced in SDRs instead of dollars, a topic which is all the rage today as rumors are swirling that this is an imminent transition to be "put" upon the United States.
In response to your request, we have considered, and discussed with other agencies, whether the US should favor use of SDRs instead of dollars, to pay for cure oil... I have concluded that dollar pricing should be maintained -- a view that is shared by State, Treasury and CEA.
1. An announcement that dollars were no longer being used as the unit of account in paying for oil would trigger selling of dollars on the foreign exchange markets. So we would suffer.
2. I don't see any offsetting gain, since OPEC would probably raise prices in SDR terms, as necessary to recover revenue losses if the SDR appreciated relative to the dollar.
And the conclusion:
We might be able to persuade the OPEC countries to make the shift if the dollar weakened but that's precisely when the move would be most damaging to us.
Poor Mr. Owen- little did he realize that a mere 3 decades after this memo was penned, the administration would be consumed by a bunch of Wall Street pandering, middle class extortionists, who seek nothing else than to inflate the trillions of toxic "asset" loans that make up the broken backbone of the American financial system. It would come as no surprise if the move is now in fact spearheaded by the same administration which has no other purpose in life than to destroy what little savings Americans have and to throw all their cash to prop up artificially inflated equity prices so that insiders can sell their stock at agreeable levels, and so the toxic companies can use the run up to issue follow on offerings, moderating their untenable debt holdings.
The choice of the unit of account for oil pricing is basically under the producing countries' control. There is no particular economic reason why a shift from the dollar would be contrary to U.S. interest -- unless the dollar were to depreciate significant in relation to the currencies in the pricing basket. But there could be major psychological effects. Given the unsettled conditions in the foreign exchange market [TD: so true today, 30 years later], such a step at this time could be interpreted as a lack of confidence in the dollar and as presaging a shift in OPEC investment policy away from the dollar. It could precipitate a serious market reaction.
Alas, even President Carter, seen by many as one of the worst American president in American history was smart enough to not bury his own middle class at the expense of landed Wall Street interests. It is a pity that his current incarnation, advised by the Bernanke-Summers-Geithner think tank, has such diametrically opposing motivations.
h/t Geoffrey Batt for document procurement