FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why the Euro is Not Worth Saving

The Euro is crashing today to record lows against the Swiss Franc, and interest rates on Italian and Spanish bonds have hit record highs. This latest episode in the Eurozone crisis is a result of fears that the contagion is now hitting Italy. With a two-trillion dollar economy and $2.45 trillion in debt, Italy is too big to fail and the European authorities are worried. Although there is currently little basis for the concern that Italy’s interest rates could rise high enough to put its solvency in jeopardy, financial markets are acting irrationally and elevating both the fear and the prospects of a self-fulfilling prophesy. The fact that the European authorities cannot even agree on how to handle the debt of Greece ? an economy less than one-sixth the size of Italy ? does not inspire confidence in their capacity to manage a bigger crisis.

The weaker Eurozone economies ? Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain ? are already facing the prospect of years of economic punishment, including extremely high levels of unemployment (16, 12, 14 and 21 percent, respectively). Since the point of all this self-inflicted misery is to save the Euro, it is worth asking whether the Euro is worth saving. And it is worth asking this question from the point of view of the majority of Europeans who work for a living, i.e., from a progressive point of view.

It is often argued that the monetary union, which now includes 17 countries, must be maintained for the sake of the European project. This includes such worthy ideals as European solidarity, building common standards for human rights and social inclusion, keeping right-wing nationalism in check, and of course the economic and political integration that underlies such progress.

But this confuses the monetary union, or Eurozone, with the European Union itself. Denmark, Sweden, and the UK, for example, are part of the EU but not part of the monetary union. There is no reason that the European project cannot proceed, and the EU prosper, without the euro.

And there are good reasons to hope that this may happen. The problem is that the monetary union, unlike the EU itself, is an unambiguously right-wing project. If this has not been clear from its inception, it should be painfully clear now, as the weaker Euro-zone economies are being subjected to punishment that had previously been reserved for low- and middle-income countries caught in the grip of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its G-7 governors. Instead of trying to get out of recession through fiscal and/or monetary stimulus, as most of the world’s governments did in 2009, these governments are being forced to do the opposite, at enormous social cost. The insults added to injury, as with the privatizations in Greece or “labor market reform” in Spain; the regressive effects of the measures taken on the distribution of income and wealth; and the shrinking and weakening of the welfare state, while banks are bailed out at taxpayer expense ? all this advertises the clear right-wing agenda of the European authorities, as well as their attempt to take advantage of the crisis to institute right-wing political changes.

The right-wing nature of the monetary union had been institutionalized from the beginning. The rules limiting public debt to 60 percent of GDP and annual budget deficits to 3 percent of GDP ? while violated in practice, are unnecessarily restrictive in times of recession and high unemployment. The European Central Bank’s mandate to care only about inflation, and not at all about employment, is another ugly indicator. The U.S. Federal Reserve, for example, is a conservative institution but it is at least required by law to concern itself with employment as well as inflation. And the Fed — for all its incompetence in failing to recognize an $8 trillion housing bubble that crashed the U.S. economy — has proved to be flexible in the face of recession and a weak recovery, creating more than $2 trillion as part of an expansionary monetary policy. By comparison, the extremists running the European Central Bank have been raising interest rates since April, despite depression-level unemployment in the weaker Eurozone economies.

Some economists and political observers argue that the Eurozone needs a fiscal union, with greater coordination of budgetary policies, in order to make it work. But right-wing fiscal policy is counter-productive, as we are witnessing, even were it to be better coordinated. Other economists ? including this one ? have argued that the large differences in productivity among the member economies present serious difficulties for a monetary union. But even if these problems could be overcome, the Eurozone would not be worth the effort if it is a right-wing project.

European economic integration prior to the Eurozone was of a different nature. Unlike the “race-to-the-bottom” approach of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ? which displaced hundreds of thousands of Mexican farmers while contributing to reduced wages and manufacturing employment in the U.S. and Canada ? the European Union made some efforts to pull the lower-income economies upward and protect the vulnerable. But the European authorities have proved to be ruthless in their monetary union.

The idea that the Euro must be saved for the sake of European solidarity also plays on an oversimplified notion of the resistance that taxpayers in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland have demonstrated to “bailing out” Greece. While it is undeniable that some of this resistance is based on nationalist prejudice ? often inflamed by the mass media ? that is not the whole story. Many Europeans don’t like to pay the bill for bailing out European banks that made bad loans. And the EU authorities are not “helping” Greece any more than the U.S. and NATO are “helping” Afghanistan ? to take a somewhat analogous debate where those who oppose destructive policies are labeled “backward” and “isolationist.”

It appears that much of the European left does not understand the right-wing nature of the institutions, authorities, and especially macroeconomic policies that they are facing in the Eurozone. This is part of a more general problem with the public misunderstanding of macroeconomic policy worldwide, which has allowed right-wing central banks to implement destructive policies, sometimes even under left governments. These misunderstandings, along with the lack of democratic input, might help explain the paradox that Europe currently has more right-wing macroeconomic policies than the United States, despite having much stronger labor unions and other institutional bases for more progressive economic policy.

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 column was originally published by The Guardian.

 

More articles by:

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).

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail