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Monday, October 24, 2011

Paul Krugman: The Hole in Europe’s Bucket

Is the euro system doomed?:

The Hole in Europe’s Bucket, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NYTimes: If it weren’t so tragic, the current European crisis would be funny, in a gallows-humor sort of way. ...
I’ll get to the tragedy in a minute. First, let’s talk about the pratfalls... Greece, where the crisis began, is no more than a grim sideshow. The clear and present danger comes instead from ... Italy, the euro area’s third-largest economy. Investors, fearing a possible default, are demanding high interest rates on Italian debt. And these high interest rates, by raising the burden of debt service, make default more likely. ...
To save the euro, this threat must be contained. But ... here’s the problem: All the various proposals ... ultimately require backing from major European governments, whose promises to investors must be credible for the plan to work. Yet Italy is one of those major governments; it can’t achieve a rescue by lending money to itself. And France, the euro area’s second-biggest economy, has been looking shaky lately... There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza. ...
What makes the story really painful is the fact that none of this had to happen. ... Britain, Japan and the United States ... have large debts and deficits yet remain able to borrow at low interest rates. What’s their secret? The answer, in large part, is that they retain their own currencies, and investors know that in a pinch they could finance their deficits by printing more of those currencies. If the European Central Bank were to similarly stand behind European debts, the crisis would ease dramatically. ...
But such action, we keep being told, is off the table. The statutes ... supposedly prohibit this kind of thing, although one suspects that clever lawyers could find a way to make it happen. The broader problem, however, is that the whole euro system was designed to fight the last economic war. It’s a Maginot Line built to prevent a replay of the 1970s, which is worse than useless when the real danger is a replay of the 1930s. ...
The ... European elite, in its arrogance, locked the Continent into a monetary system that recreated the rigidities of the gold standard, and — like the gold standard in the 1930s — has turned into a deadly trap.
Now maybe European leaders will come up with a truly credible rescue plan. I hope so, but I don’t expect it.
The bitter truth is that it’s looking more and more as if the euro system is doomed. And the even more bitter truth is that given the way that system has been performing, Europe might be better off if it collapses sooner rather than later.

    Posted by on Monday, October 24, 2011 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Financial System, International Finance, Politics | Permalink  Comments (80)

          


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