In January 1999, President Carlos Menem suggested replacing the Argentine peso with the U.S. dollar. President Menem's announcement has sparked a debate throughout Latin America and Eastern Europe about what has been termed “dollarization.” That debate prompted U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to deliver a major policy speech on alternative exchange-rate regimes on April 21, 1999 and the U.S. Senate Banking Committee to hold dollarization hearings the following day featuring Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers.
This article presents a case for officially dollarizing Argentina. Dollarization is not new. Unofficial dollarization is widespread in emerging market countries; in fact, as much as 70% of the stock of U.S. dollars now circulates abroad. Twenty-eight countries and dependent territories are officially dollarized. Although official dollarization would result in Argentina losing seigniorage of about 0.22 percent of GDP, the author estimates that this cost would be more than offset by a reduction in interest rates that would increase Argentina's trend rate of GDP growth by about two percent.
After debunking the most common criticisms of dollarization, the article closes by offering recommendations about the specific form of dollarization and presenting a detailed dollarization statute for Argentina. The author proposes a competitive currency regime for Argentina, one in which all foreign money would be legal tender.