Joined: Sep 2009
Europe's Economic Suicide
Europe’s Economic Suicide
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: April 15, 2012
On Saturday The Times reported on an apparently growing phenomenon in Europe: “suicide by economic crisis,” people taking their own lives in despair over unemployment and business failure. It was a heartbreaking story. But I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader, especially among economists, wondering if the larger story isn’t so much about individuals as about the apparent determination of European leaders to commit economic suicide for the Continent as a whole.
Just a few months ago I was feeling some hope about Europe. You may recall that late last fall Europe appeared to be on the verge of financial meltdown; but the European Central Bank, Europe’s counterpart to the Fed, came to the Continent’s rescue. It offered Europe’s banks open-ended credit lines as long as they put up the bonds of European governments as collateral; this directly supported the banks and indirectly supported the governments, and put an end to the panic.
The question then was whether this brave and effective action would be the start of a broader rethink, whether European leaders would use the breathing space the bank had created to reconsider the policies that brought matters to a head in the first place.
But they didn’t. Instead, they doubled down on their failed policies and ideas. And it’s getting harder and harder to believe that anything will get them to change course.
Consider the state of affairs in Spain, which is now the epicenter of the crisis. Never mind talk of recession; Spain is in full-on depression, with the overall unemployment rate at 23.6 percent, comparable to America at the depths of the Great Depression, and the youth unemployment rate over 50 percent. This can’t go on — and the realization that it can’t go on is what is sending Spanish borrowing costs ever higher.
In a way, it doesn’t really matter how Spain got to this point — but for what it’s worth, the Spanish story bears no resemblance to the morality tales so popular among European officials, especially in Germany. Spain wasn’t fiscally profligate — on the eve of the crisis it had low debt and a budget surplus. Unfortunately, it also had an enormous housing bubble, a bubble made possible in large part by huge loans from German banks to their Spanish counterparts. When the bubble burst, the Spanish economy was left high and dry; Spain’s fiscal problems are a consequence of its depression, not its cause.
Nonetheless, the prescription coming from Berlin and Frankfurt is, you guessed it, even more fiscal austerity.
This is, not to mince words, just insane. Europe has had several years of experience with harsh austerity programs, and the results are exactly what students of history told you would happen: such programs push depressed economies even deeper into depression. And because investors look at the state of a nation’s economy when assessing its ability to repay debt, austerity programs haven’t even worked as a way to reduce borrowing costs.
Joined: Sep 2009
Spain's economy slipped into recession in the first quarter as domestic demand shrank, data showed on Monday, with deep government spending cuts in an uphill battle to trim the public deficit likely to delay any return to growth.
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Gross domestic product shrank 0.3 percent in January-March from the previous quarter according to preliminary National Statistics Institute data, unchanged from October-December and compared to a Reuters poll expecting a 0.4 percent contraction.
Madrid is under intense pressure from its European peers to streamline the euro zone's fourth largest economy, reduce a massive public deficit and fix a banking system battered by a four-year economic slump and a burst property bubble.
On an annual basis the economy contracted by 0.4 percent compared with growth of 0.3 percent in the previous quarter, the data showed. Economists polled by Reuters, as well as the Bank of Spain, had forecast a slippage of 0.5 percent.
"Spain's still very much recession and we think that this isn't going to improve soon. It's likely they'll have to create more fiscal tightening in order to catch up if they wish to avoid going in to plan, and that's going to be counterproductive," economist at Citi Guillaume Menuet said.
The Spanish government's updated economic stability plan, published on Friday before sending it to the European Commission, saw an estimated contraction of 1.7 percent in 2012 turning to 0.2 percent growth by next year.
Joined: Sep 2009
Death of a Fairy Tale
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: April 26, 2012
This was the month the confidence fairy died.
For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should — by spending more to offset falling private demand — but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.
Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank — a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.
The good news is that many influential people are finally admitting that the confidence fairy was a myth. The bad news is that despite this admission there seems to be little prospect of a near-term course change either in Europe or here in America, where we never fully embraced the doctrine, but have, nonetheless, had de facto austerity in the form of huge spending and employment cuts at the state and local level.