The current Eurozone crisis is getting worse and has concentrated our minds on the most recent period of European history. As in all these situations where focus is very immediate our memories get a little blurred and we are inclined to accept propositions that closer analysis of the data suggest do not hold water. January 1 was the tenth anniversary of the date when Euro notes and coins began to circulate. It had of-course been operating since January 1, 1999 but only in a non-physical form (electronic transfers etc). If you believe the rhetoric from the Euro bosses in the first several years of the Euro history and didn’t know anything else you would be excused for thinking that it was a spectacular success. The Celtic Tiger, the Spanish miracle, the unprecedented price stability and all the rest of it. But the reality is a little different to the hype. The fact is that the common currency did not deliver the dividends that were expected or touted by the leaders leading up to the crisis. All the so-called gains that the pro-Euro lobby claim were in actual fact a sign of the failure of the design of the union although it took the crisis to expose these terminal weaknesses for all to see. My view is that the Euro was failing from day one and it would be better to disband it as a failed experiment that has caused untold damage to the human dimension.
Yesterday (December 26, 2012), the French Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Santé (Ministry of Labour, Employment and Health) released the latest labour market data for November 2011 which showed that the number of people seeking jobs (demandeurs d’emploi) had risen sharply in the last month. The data shows that the Euro malaise is now penetrating the core large economies in the Eurozone as the impacts of fiscal austerity spreads. It is interesting that the continued fiscal support in the US which is only surviving because the politicians have created a temporary impasse is seeing unemployment falling whereas the trend is now in reverse in the Eurozone. The neo-liberal infested Euro bosses are proving to be much more adept at destroying their economies than their counterparts across the Atlantic.
Some new research has given me hope that the politicians will soon be in a position to use the fiscal tools at their disposable to solve the economic crisis. We might call it the pigeon recovery. The ABC News reports that Pigeons can count and so I propose we round up a bunch of them from some of those nice European buildings ship them (humanely) to Brussels and the Eurotower and let them count up the unemployment numbers (well they might have to go to Eurostat in Luxembourg). Then they could calculate the real GDP and income losses and by way of a new Google Pigeon-to-English translator convey to the politicians the urgency of the situation and that jobs are created when people or governments spend and that income is created as a consequence and people become more prosperous. Then some homing pigeons could fly some Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) material to the offices of the politicians to give them something to read instead of the latest nonsense from the IMF or some other institutions that have forgotten that unemployment matters and financial ratios are of limited relevance. Once the pigeons have done their work – the Euro leaders will sit down and realise that an orderly break-up of the monetary union is the best long-term strategy for all of them. Speaking of which here are some “hard truths” for 2012.
I was going to write about the True Finns today to report some research I am doing at present aimed at exposing how the “left” political parties have ceded legitimate progressive issues to fringe parties who then meld reasonably sensible economic issues with offensive social and cultural stances to create a popular but highly toxic political force. The True Finns who gained 19 odd per cent of the vote in the April 2011 national election exemplify this trend. The Euro crisis is accelerating the growth of the popularist political forces in Europe who are anti-Euro (pro-nationalist) and who will not (I suspect) tolerate the Euro elites impinging on national affairs and imposing a decade or more of enforced austerity. There are political movements/parties all over Europe now (for example, Vlaams Belang, Le Pen, Lega Nord etc) which fit this mould. It would be far better for the mainstream progressive parties around Europe to take the initiative and retake control of the policy debate on what should be bread-and-butter issues for the left. Sadly, these mainstream left parties have become totally co-opted by the neo-liberal agenda and speak the same economic voice as the conservatives. The problem then is that the public debate is distorted by untruths which further reinforce the malaise. A dose of truth is required in Europe.
Last Friday (December 16, 2011), Ireland’s Central Statistics Office published their – National Accounts – for the September quarter 2011 and guess what? Things just became worse. Ireland is now nearly two years in the enforced austerity and all the deficit terrorists have been watching it closely for signs of life. The slightest upturn in GDP growth has brought a salvo of attacks on any one daring to oppose the harsh austerity. Well, I also watch it closely and the pattern that is unfolding is consistent with predictions. Things are getting worse not better. The only growth “engine” has been exports and with austerity spreading that market will not be strong enough to sustain growth when domestic demand is being ravaged by austerity.
Imagine you had a headache and some economist tells you that you can cure the headache by bashing your head against a wall. So you duly bash your head against the nearest brick wall and not only does it hurt (perhaps drawing blood depending on the severity of the blow) but you note the headache is now worse. The economist then concludes you didn’t bash your head hard enough and instructs you to stick to the “rule” and give it another try – only this time go harder. Blood is now flowing, the head is traumatised and the headache gets even more unbearable. Welcome to Greece which is being bullied by the Troika (EU, ECB and the IMF) in a similar way. The latest IMF medium-term forecasts for Greece reveal a staggering failure by that institution to understand causality and the impacts that their austerity programs have on real economies. Without a blush, the IMF presented the world yesterday with revised forecasts for Greece which reveal their previous forecasts will be around 100 per cent wrong over just over a 6-month horizon. That sort of error is beyond any accepted professional standards. The IMF’s response – bash your head even harder.
A repeating narrative during this crisis is that fiscal austerity is required in order to satisfy the “markets”, that amorphous collective of bond traders, gamblers, speculators, crooks and whatever else. The regular threats coming from the ratings agencies (those crooks who lied to investors in order to make profits via cosy deals with the originators of the “assets”) reinforce the idea that markets are the “regulators” of good judgement. Economics students are taught that one of the imperatives of government is to deregulate in order to allow the market signals to be clear and strong so we can act in accordance with the “markets” judgement of prudence. It is a paradigm built on a myth. Markets fail and easily become corrupted and arenas where criminals dominate. The signals they send are also deeply flawed and should not be acted upon. One of the lessons of this crisis is that our agents – the governments we elect – have to make markets work for us not the other way around. When markets fail to establish benchmarks that we do not consider to be in our best interests then it is time to reform them.
The message to be drawn from this blog is that the dithering Euro bosses have done it again. Amidst all the bluster about stability and moving forward together all they have done last week (at the EU Summit) was further undermine the prospects of their region. The new rules that have seemingly been agreed upon will not be achievable and will generate even more financial instability as growth deteriorates further. In early 1968, amidst all the lunacy of the Vietnam War, an American general told a New Zealand reporter that the US decision to bomb a town full of civilians into oblivion was based on the logic that “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”. Last week’s (December 9, 2011) – Statement by the Euro area Heads of State or Government – invokes that sort of logic except in this case the brutality is of a different degree and style. Neither action was justified in the circumstances that the decision-makers faced.
I often wonder what outer space thinks of Earth. In recent days a new planet – named Kepler 22b – has been discovered which has Earth-like features and would probably support life. With the CofFEE conference over it was back to the Euro crisis today. Kepler 22b will be following the EU Summit as much as all of us. Laughing with us as the buffoons who parade as leaders work on the next can to kick down the road. The ECB boss gave a press conference yesterday which clarified things a bit – they won’t bail out governments but each week are bailing out governments. That sounds easy to understand. Like the rest of it. I wonder what Kepler 22b is thinking.
This week, the European Union Summit should see the leadership take the monetary union further into the mire and further away from an effective solution to their woes. The German Chancellor has vowed to create a new fiscal union across the Eurozone. She announced this plan to the German Parliament and declared she would push for a change to the treaty that established the common currency. Let me state at the outset – the plan as the press are reporting it – will not work. It is just the latest in a long line of Euro “solutions” that has fallen on its face soon after being announced as the way forward for the EMU. It won’t work because it doesn’t address the problem and will make changes that will make the actual problem worse. Europe is suffering a lack of aggregate demand and needs to address that head on by increasing public spending. Further constraining the capacity of governments to spend will make the situation worse.