Most current policy discussion concerning the euro area is about austerity. Some people, particularly in German government circles, are pushing for tighter fiscal policies in troubled countries (i.e., higher taxes and lower government spending). Others, including in the new French government, are more inclined to push for a more expansive fiscal policy where possible and to resist fiscal contraction elsewhere.
The recently concluded Group of 20 summit meeting is being interpreted as shifting the balance away from the “austerity now” group, at least to some extent. But both sides of this debate are missing the important issue. As a result, the euro area continues its slide toward deeper crisis and likely eventual disruptive breakup…
The news from Europe, particularly from within the euro zone, seems all bad.
Interest rates on Italian government debt continue to rise. Attempts to put together a “rescue package” at the pan-European level repeatedly fall behind events. And the lack of leadership from Germany and France is palpable – where is the vision or the clarity of thought we would have had from Charles de Gaulle or Konrad Adenauer?
In 2009 when my colleagues at the National Bureau of Economic Research and I began planning a conference for a project we’re running on the global financial crisis, we were concerned that the material would no longer be timely when the symposium actually occurred. We needn’t have worried.
I’ve just returned from Washington, DC, where our symposium was held, and again financial crises were the topic of the day. Three years after cracks in the subprime mortgage market erupted into the most severe and synchronized global financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression, the world economy is once more in dangerous territory. What began as a singular sovereign debt problem in Greece has spread to the rest of Europe, and now threatens to become a second act to the first financial crisis. How did we get here? And how can we keep it from happening again?
Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank until October, last week floated two proposals aimed at dealing with Greece and related eurozone public-debt problems.
The first idea would allow European Union authorities to override the policy decisions of member governments that can’t come up with sustainable budgets, implying the creation of an external control board for the likes of Greece. This approach has been used in the past for very weak countries (as well as for the cities of New York andWashington in recent decades). In Europe today, it would have no political legitimacy and would be completely unworkable — imagine the street protests it would spark.