The events continue to get more strange in the Eurozone by the day. Yesterday, Portugal was downgraded, which will worsen their situation, despite the rating agency claiming that the fiscal austerity plan in place was credible. Tomorrow, European leaders meet in Brussels but the German leader doesn’t even want the crisis on the agenda. The Germans only want to discuss imposing even tougher restrictions on the ability of governments to govern in the interest of their citizens. It is like a B-grade horror movie script. But all the intrigues that are playing out in the Eurozone at present demonstrate (albeit tragically so) the dynamics that led to the collapse of the fixed exchange rate system (the Bretton Woods arrangement). Same old story – bullies and the bullied. It means the only viable solution is to abandon the EMU as soon as possible and restore some sanity … and democracy.
I am currently researching the way in which the labour market functions to discipline the inflationary process has fundamentally changed over the last 20 years as underemployment has risen. I will have more to say on that at another time as the work advances. But today it led me into considering research that demonstrates that different employment protection (higher dismissal costs etc) standards across the EMU have been instrumental in explaining the differentials in unemployment that are now evident. So nations with more protection have fared better in the crisis than nations which more vigorously pursued the neo-liberal flexibility agenda (that is, creating rising proportions of precarious employment). This type of research puts the debate now raging in the Eurozone that nations have to adjust by drastically cutting wages and conditions into a different light.
What is it about Europeans? Historically, they seem to want to invade each other with regularity with mass carnage the result and sometimes some border re-alignments. They are happy when there is a freezing cold white-out (or do they just say that to avoid acknowledging it is better in the sun by the beach). When they do get to the beach – it is always at some tacky crowded place and they end up looking like cooked lobsters. They love Eurovision pop and … soccer. Need I go on? And then they decide to lumber themselves with a poorly conceived and shockingly designed common currency arrangement that hasn’t a hope of delivering sustained prosperity to all member states and continually requires damaging deflations and reductions in living standards when external crises hit. But then ….
First, devise a monetary union that is based on flawed notions of how the monetary system operates. Second, within that union invent nonsensical rules that give the system in general or member nations in particular the no capacity to deal with a damaging economic crisis. Third, allow countries within the union to game it to their own advantage at the expense of other member nations (for example, Germany – although the advantage was at the expense of German workers). Fourth, when a crisis hits elevate the nonsensical rules to the level of the sacrosanct and commit innocent citizens to years of unnecessary economic hardship. That is the level of sophistication that Europe has reached in 2010.
Today I have been studying data from the EMU economies where the individual member states surrendered their currency sovereignty and comparing it to other nations which have sovereign currencies (Australia, Denmark, Japan, the UK and the US). This is part of a larger project I am involved in. While the glare of the spotlight is currently on Greece and how the EMU handles the issue, most commentators conveniently forget that this problem has been many years in the making and is both a product of initial design folly and subsequent behaviour by some member states.
In past blogs I have indicated that nations were mad entering the EMU and surrendering their fiscal sovereignty. This is especially so for the so-called peripheral nations (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, to some extent Italy) who have become basket cases in a system that prevents individual member’s from using fiscal policy to improve the circumstances of their citizens. Indeed it is a system that forces aggregate policy to act in a pro-cyclical manner for nations that are undergoing crisis – that is, the politicians have somehow managed to convince their populations that it is a credible position for them to use their policy power to make things worse rather than better. So policy which should reduce poverty and empower the youth of a nation with education and employment opportunities is now doing exactly the opposite. As I noted last week, one statistic is enough to tell you the EMU system is a failure – 53 per cent of Spanish youth are now unemployed! So can a nation exit the EMU? What would happen if it did? I had some thoughts on this today.
… su tiempo para salir de la UEM. On Wednesday I was up in freezing Iceland and we saw how the threats of being prevented entry into the EMU had led the Icelandic government into bowing to the unjustifiable bullying of the UK and Dutch governments and violating the wishes of its own populations. A greater authority (the President) intervened and hopefully the Icelanders will tell goliath to take a walk. Today I have travelled south into the EMU – to Spain where the weather is kinder but the economic climate is very harsh indeed. The situation in Spain tells us all that the Euro system was always built on corrupted neo-liberal rhetoric and now it is buckling asunder as the first real test of its logic is causing havoc among ordinary people. I am sure those officials in their warm offices and well-paid jobs in Frankfurt and Brussels are not enduring what a significant minority of Spaniards are now going through. One statistic is enough to tell you the EMU system is a failure – 53 per cent of Spanish youth (16-19 year olds) who want to work are unemployed! So … España se está muriendo … su tiempo para salir de la UEM (Spain is dying … its time to leave the EMU).
Today I have a wind in my sails and I am heading for Greece. I am wondering if any modern day Ulysses will find much of their homeland left given current trends. The current situation in Greece exposes the stupidity of the Euro monetary system. The Greek government is running a rising budget deficit in response to the economic crisis that it faces. Much of the budget change is being driven by the automatic stabilisers. Meanwhile the financial markets are playing their usual (unproductive) tricks and making matters worse. Sitting in the middle is the undemocratic ECB which is insisting on fiscal consolidation. Pity the poor Greeks who are increasingly without work. The solution is not straightforward but I would abandon the Euro and restore currency sovereignty.
I have been looking into underemployment data for Europe today as part of a larger project which I will report on in due course. But whenever I am studying European data I think how stupid the European Monetary Union (EMU) is from a modern monetary theory (MMT) perspective. Then I read the Financial Times this afternoon and saw that Diverging deficits could fracture the eurozone and I thought there is some hope after all although that is not what the journalist was trying to convey. This is an opportune time to answer a lot of questions I get asked about the EMU. Does MMT principles apply there? Why not? Is this a better way of organising a monetary system? So if you are interested in those issues, please read on.
As a brief follow up to yesterday, German labour force data came out yesterday (Tuesday) and reveal that unemployment rose sharply in December and the disgraceful barrier of a record 5 million unemployed is now highly likely in early 2005. In December there were 4.48 million unemployed or 10.8 per cent of the active population. This is the highest level since 1990 and the second highest level in the whole period since World War II.