FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Self-Inflicted Recession Threatens World Economy

by MARK WEISBROT

The economic news out of the eurozone is getting worse every day, and so is the contagion to the rest of the world. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), the club of 34 mostly high-income countries, has now lowered its projection for eurozone growth for 2012 from 2 percent (in May) to just 0.2 percent. According to their report, the 17-member eurozone economy already “appears to be in a mild recession.” For the U.S., the forecast for next year was lowered from 3 percent to 2.1 percent.

Forecasts for China, India, and Brazil have also been lowered significantly since May. From Asia to Latin America, the problems of the eurozone are reverberating as international banks contract credit, big investment projects are canceled or postponed, stock markets and real estate prices fall, and investor and consumer confidence drops.

And the OECD projections assume that Europe “muddles through” its current financial crisis without any significant financial disaster. But as the eurozone economy worsens, this assumption gets increasingly less tenable.

The simplest solution to the crisis is for the European Central Bank (ECB) to buy enough of the Italian and Spanish debt – and possibly other eurozone countries’ debt – to push down interest rates to a safe level. On Tuesday, Italy paid a record 7.89 percent yield for three-year bonds that it auctioned, well above the 7 percent level that was seen as a threshold for Greece, Ireland and Portugal to move from market financing to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European authorities. With lower borrowing costs, Italy and Spain would not be facing a “debt crisis.”

In fact, this whole crisis and recession could have been prevented very easily if the European authorities had simply intervened to maintain low interest rates on the Greek debt a year and a half ago. It is possible that some restructuring might still have been necessary, but the cost would still have been very small relative to the available resources of the European authorities. Because they refused to do this, and instead shrank the Greek economy, increased its debt burden, and allowed its borrowing costs to skyrocket – the crisis spread to the weaker countries of the eurozone, including Italy.

And now capital – including American money market funds – is fleeing Europe’s banking system, threatening a systemic financial crisis of unknowable proportions.

This failure to act – then and now – shows clearly that this is not a “debt crisis” at all but rather a crisis of failed policies. Eurozone finance ministers met Tuesday but failed again to come up with any credible solution that would stabilize the situation.

ECB intervention to stabilize eurozone bond markets is the most obvious, and possibly the only practical solution for several reasons. First, it is the only institution that can move quickly to bring the situation under control at a moment in which we really don’t know how far we are from a meltdown. Nobody anticipated that Germany, for example, would have trouble selling its bonds last week – there will be other unanticipated events that could possibly set off a panic at any time. Second, the ECB can buy the sovereign bonds of Italy or Spain at no cost to the European taxpayer. This is a serious issue, since the amounts of money involved could be large enough to present a political problem in Germany and other better-off eurozone countries. Just as the U.S. Federal Reserve has created $2.3 trillion since 2008 and used it to buy securities in the United States, the ECB could do the same in Europe where such buying is much more desperately needed. And just as there was no measurable effect on inflation in the United States, we would not expect any problem with inflation in Europe. Inflation in the eurozone is currently projected to fall to just 1.6 percent for next year.

The problem is that the ECB, and other European authorities led by the German government, are still playing the same game of brinkmanship that they have been playing for the past two years. They are more worried about forcing austerity policies on the weaker eurozone countries than they are about tanking the European and global economy. They continue to see the crisis as an opportunity to force through unpopular “reforms” – such as cutting jobs and pensions, raising the retirement age, privatizations, and reducing the size and scope of the welfare state. They have already caused a recession in the eurozone and seem more than willing to let it deepen in order to get what they want. The big question now is whether their recklessness will bring on a financial crisis that triggers a world recession.

Some of us have called for the Federal Reserve to intervene before this happens and do the ECB’s job for them. It has the capacity to do so, and like its prior quantitative easing in the U.S., would be costless to the taxpayers. It might cause a bit of a political storm, but that would be a small price to pay to avoid a recession that would throw millions more people out of work – in the United States, Europe, and much of the world.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

 

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
Peter Lee
Is Obama Behind the Hit on Trump?
Christopher Brauchli
Why Did Congress Do It? Because They Can
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail