Austerity measures aggravate the euro crisis29 January, 2012 at 12:22 | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments
Simon Wren-Lewis – economics professor at Oxford University – gets it basically right on the counterfinality of solving the euro crisis with austerity measures:
We can put it this way. If the problem is simply one of government debt, and we have good reason to believe there is too much debt in most Eurozone countries (including Germany), then general austerity is the order of the day. Whereas the markets believe Germany will undertake austerity of their own free will, in other countries neither the markets nor the ECB believe this, so we need a continuing but controlled crisis to force these countries to act. However, if the problem is external imbalances and competitiveness, we have a danger of ‘competitive austerity’. We need more austerity outside Germany than within Germany to correct imbalances between the two. The more Germany adopts a contractionary fiscal policy the further countries outside Germany are forced to go. The end result is not only general stagnation within the Eurozone, but recession so acute in some countries that political turmoil may follow, possibly leading to the breakup of the Eurozone.In other circumstances, competitive austerity might not be a problem, because the ECB could counteract any general stagnation by reducing interest rates. There are two reasons why this is not a way out today. First, by raising interest rates last year, the ECB appears to be too preoccupied by short term inflation, so they may not act when they should. Second, and more fundamentally, they are close to a zero lower bound, and so have lost the ability to prevent a second recession through monetary policy. So unlike the case where the problem is risk premia on government debt, the ECB cannot be sure to act effectively in a Eurozone recession.This suggests that the key problem for the Eurozone is similar to that faced by the US, the UK and others. Too much austerity in the short term is holding back or even killing the recovery from the last recession, because monetary policy has lost its power in a liquidity trap. In these other countries this excessive austerity will ‘only’ result in significantly higher unemployment for many years to come. In the Eurozone the consequences could be more dramatic.