Will the Declining U.S. 'Petro-Dollar' Induce Middle East Conflict?

The U.S dollar is shrinking as a percentage of the world's currency supply, and may end its long run as the world's premier denomination.

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Macro image of a dollar bill.

Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com

The value of the dollar is slipping, slipping, slipping… so consistently that its pervasive influence impacts American consumers daily both on the price of gasoline and just about any consumer goods we buy. Have you bought Girl Scout cookies lately? A box of their wonderful Thin Mint cookies has shrunk from three sleeves of cookies to two. The box weighs 9 ounces.

Jeff Cox, a senior writer with CNBC, reported earlier this month that the U.S dollar is shrinking as a percentage of the world's currency supply, raising concerns that the greenback is about to see its long run as the world's premier denomination come to an end. When compared to other global currencies, the dollar has drifted to a 15 year low, according to the International Monetary Fund, indicating that more countries are willing to use other currencies to do business.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Our government has greased the wheels for that decline. As our government supports a 'weak dollar' it does so with the objective of reducing the relative value that our $16 trillion-plus debt represents. That approach is proving to be trouble now, but the severity of the 'trouble' that lies ahead could be staggering.

Cox quoted Dick Bove, vice president of equity research at Rafferty Capital Markets, who said, "If the dollar loses status as the world's most reliable currency the United States will lose the right to print money to pay its debt. It will be forced to pay this debt." 

How far will the United States go to preserve the dollar's status as the world's reserve currency, a status Bove says we could lose in five to 10 years? We may not ever want to learn the answer.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Marin Katusa, chief energy investment strategist with Stowe, VT-based Casey Research, wrote in January that if the U.S. dollar loses its position as the global reserve currency, the consequences for America are dire. A major portion of the dollar's valuation stems from its lock on the oil industry—if that monopoly fades, so too will the value of the dollar.

Katusa notes that the U.S. dollar's role as the prime currency for global oil transactions has reaped many rewards. "As oil usage increased in the 1980s, demand for the U.S. dollar rose with it, lifting our economy to new heights. But even without economic success at home the U.S. dollar would have soared, because the petrodollar system created consistent international demand for U.S. dollars, which in turn gained in value."

[See a collection of political cartoons on gas prices.]

Because the value of the U.S. dollar is determined in large part by the fact that oil is sold in U.S. dollars, Katusa notes that if that trade shifts to a different currency, countries around the world won't need all their U.S. money. The resulting sell-off of U.S. dollars would weaken the currency dramatically.

Can we afford such a paradigm shift? With Iranian oil now trading with India, China, and Russia in currencies other than dollars, does a U.S. influenced attack on Ahmadinejad's regime seem just a bit more possible right now?    

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