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Since Congress is finished with its fight over fast track negotiating authority for President Obama, and the next big trade deal in the offing – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – is still being negotiated, issues like foreign currency manipulation have virtually disappeared from the media.

That’s more than a shame, since the effects of China’s longstanding exchange-rate protectionism – which gives Chinese-made goods artificial price advantages in all global markets – still weigh on American manufacturing production and employment.  And let’s not forget that Mr. Obama and Congress’ Republican leadership successfully beat back efforts to include strong disciplines on manipulation in the TPP – even though prospective TPP member Japan looks like another huge manipulator.

Here’s hoping, though, that when these subjects return to the spotlight, decision-makers will read John Plender’s excellent post in yesterday’s Financial Times explaining why this predatory practice needs to be abolished – and not just for America’s sake.

Plender makes two main contributions to the heated currency manipulation debate. First, he explains that the main argument against curbing manipulation is a straw man. It doesn’t much matter whether national currencies weaken because the governments in question are explicitly seeking trade advantages or not. It’s true, as manipulation soft-liners note ad nauseam, that the recent spate of central bank monetary easing policies pursued all around the world generally has been bound to weaken their countries’ currencies. It’s also true that America’s own Federal Reserve has eased massively itself – though the dollar has remained strong over the long run partly because of its unique status as the world’s predominant currency, and partly because the U.S. economy has outperformed that of most other major powers lately.

But as Plender notes, the distortions to trade flows take place all the same. He could have added, as opposed to only suggesting, a point I keep making: Monetary easing by a trade- and export-led economy (like China’s or Japan’s) is much likelier to stem from trade-related concerns than easing by a consumption-led economy like the United States. (Other considerations let America off the hook, too.)

His second contribution: observing that the universally condemned currency devaluations that helped deepen the Great Depression were by no means all made to beggar trade partners. Yet as trade policy critics are constantly reminded, trade flows suffered anyway. In fact, Plender cites this stunning claim from University of Chicago economist Robert Aliber: measured in terms of the worldwide trade imbalances that have resulted, “today’s currency wars are more severe than those of the 1930s.”

Indeed, this is a great opportunity to revive another point I’ve made in the context of of the fast track/TPP currency manipulation debate: The devaluations of the 1930s and the economic and military calamities they brought closer taught the American and other architects of the post-World War II global economic order a seminal lesson: that such currency movements needed to be controlled in order to create and maintain a viable international trade system. Unless Mr. Obama and his fellow globalization cheerleaders now believe that this conviction was wrong, they need to make sure that U.S. policy helps end or severely punish manipulation, and finally treat genuinely free trade like a priority, not a talking point.

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