Paul Krugman: Wishful Thinking And The Road To Eurogeddon


Wishful Thinking And The Road To Eurogeddon, by Paul Krugman, in NY Times: Gavyn Davies has a very good piece today offering another way to think about the euromess. I say “another way to think” advisedly — his analysis of the basics is, as far as I can tell, identical to mine, but he offers a different angle of approach that may be better than the route the rest of us have been taking. Here’s Davies:

It is normal to discuss the sovereign debt problem by focusing on the sustainability of public debt in the peripheral economies. But it can be more informative to view it as a balance of payments problem. Taken together, the four most troubled nations (Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece) have a combined current account deficit of $183 billion. Most of this deficit is accounted for by the public sector deficits of these countries, since their private sectors are now roughly in financial balance. Offsetting these deficits, Germany has a current account surplus of $182 billion, or about 5 per cent of its GDP.

The euro problem can then be defined a finding a way (1) to finance these imbalances in the short run (2) end the imbalances over the medium run.

It’s also worth noting that we’re not talking about imbalances that have been going on forever.The internal imbalances of Europe are a recent development, coinciding with and almost surely caused in large part by the creation of the euro itself (GIPS is Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain):

So how are these imbalances to be closed? European leaders have been completely unwilling to confront that question. Yesterday’s big Times piece offers a portrait of leaders — Trichet in particular — engaged in furious denial. It wasn’t just the insistence on Trichet’s part that no default could ever happen. The European Central Bank also went all in for the doctrine of expansionary austerity, aka belief in the confidence fairy.

And what Davies’s post drives home is that implicitly at least European leaders went in for the doctrine of immaculate transfer — in effect, they wanted to believe that the huge payments imbalances could be ended without major changes in relative prices.

So what’s happening instead is forced austerity in the deficit countries, not matched by expansionary policies elsewhere, in a low aggregate inflation environment — the ECB actually raised rates! — that makes adjustment almost impossible. The result is a eurozone headed for recession, and one in which a breakup of the euro itself is looking ever more possible.

Awesome.

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