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Europe begins its endgame. Watch and learn, for Europe’s problems are the world’s.

11 November 2011

Summary:  The endgame for Europe (in its current form) probably has started.  Like birth, nobody what comes next.  Will the process be easy or difficult?  Fast or slow?  Produce an angel or monster?  Here we make some guesses.  Pay attention, as Europe’s travails mirror those to come for the world.

Contents

  1. The present:  rising stress
  2. What comes next?
  3. The lesson Europe offers to the world
  4. For more information

(1)  The present:  rising stress

In a troubled marriage the first mention of divorce can spark its dissolution, as the partners protect themselves by grabbing assets and consulting attorneys.  Something similar afflicts the Eurozone.  The G-20 conference was advertised as the last chance to save the Eurozone.  After it passed with no strong action, Greece’s PM proposed a referendum — in response to which Germany’s PM threatened to eject Greece from the EMU.

Now they have taken the next step, making contingency plans.  “French and Germans explore idea of smaller euro zone” (Reuters).  “Merkel’s Party May Adopt Euro-Exit Clause in Platform, CDU’s Barthle Says” (Bloomberg).  Italian bond yields have spiked up in response to the increased risk of default.  Next will come capital flight from the PIIGS to safer lands.  Such things will destabilize Europe.  If continued the current structure will collapse, forcing either unification or fragmentation.  Most experts bet on the latter, although anything is possible.

(2)  What comes next?

The news media describe the European crisis — like they do almost everything — as a morality tale.  Strong northern Europeans sell their fine manufactured goods to their swarthy southern neighbors (loaning them the money to do so).  We consume these tales like children.  In fact all these nations did well until they joined the EMU.  Only after 2000 did the debt for goods trade develop, the inevitable result of a monetary regime designed for Germany wrecking the competitiveness of the southern members of the EMU.

The outcome might disappoint those in the audience hoping for a victory of goodies over baddies.  The likely fragmentation of Europe might mean devaluation and default by some of the PIIGS.  Freed of their excessive debt burdens and mad German-imposed austerity programs, competitiveness restored by their new (and devalued vs. the Euro) currencies, their economies might recover.  That assumes that they manage the process well, using the turmoil as an opportunity to make vital reforms.

What of the heroes of the north, liberated from their weak and feckless southern cousins?  Their exports will fall due to the lost southern markets.  Their currency (perhaps a super-DeutschMark) might rise in value — like the Japanese Yen and Swiss Franc — to levels making their exports uncompetitive in much of the world (a too-strong currency is an anvil tied to a nation).  Their banks will require massive government support, as some of the PIIGS default (in some fashion) on their bonds.

Economics, like medicine and engineering, is a practical science – not a morality.

(3)  The lesson Europe offers to the world

The G-20 Summit statement of November 2008 (in the midst of a global collapse) nicely described the problem within Europe and of the world:

Major underlying factors to the current situation were, among others, inconsistent and insufficiently coordinated macroeconomic policies, inadequate structural reforms, which led to unsustainable global macroeconomic outcomes.  These developments, together, contributed to excesses and ultimately resulted in severe market disruptions.

In the three years since nothing has been done to solve these problems, either in Europe or the world.  Now events force Europe to take action.  Events will similarly force global action, eventually.

(a)  The madness of the “everybody must save” policy goals, and the lack of necessary global policy coordination

From “Europe is choking on imbalances, will the global system be next?, George Magnus, 9 November 2011

{about deflationary policies}:

  • European countries give top priority to deficit adjustment through more austerity – witness current deliberations in Italy and France.
  • The US debt ceiling crisis resulted in deficit cutting proposals now reaching a critical deadline at the end of November.
  • And many emerging countries, including China, have continued to restrain nominal and real exchange rate adjustments, while pursuing restrictive economic policies to contain inflationary pressures.

The asymmetry of policy adjustment is only ‘sustainable’ in the sense that for as long as it continues, the outcomes will be negative for growth, financial stability and trade and capital movements. This is the result of advanced nations looking to deleverage and raise savings, while key emerging nations pursue economic models based around high levels of savings.

The creation of the G20 in 2008 was a notable milestone in bringing together most of the world’s biggest creditors and debtors. But apart from the coordinated 2008/09 response to the financial crisis, much of which had been pre-determined nationally, its subsequent record doesn’t amount to much of consequence. The recent Cannes Summit showed all too clearly, in spookily reminiscent tones of the London Economic Conference of 1933, that the G20 lacks the leadership to draw up an agree and implement an agenda to unwind imbalances. The financial crisis has sapped the US ability to lead, left China’s unwillingness untouched, and further undermined the capacity of Europe on both counts.

(b)  The madness of vendor financing

The current structure of Europe cracks under the slowly rising stress of vendor financing:  export-based prosperity for some, debt-financed consumption by others.  Unless reformed, this can only end badly.  The global economy has similar imbalances.  In 2010 the trade surpluses of China, Russia, and East Asia (China being half the total) were almost equal to the US trade deficit of $560 billion.  OPEC, Germany, and Japan accumulated another $518 billion surplus.  These numbers continue year by year, accumulating stress that will eventually break the current global financial order.

We should watch and learn from Europe’s experience in the months to come.  We, and the rest of the world, may follow them sooner than we expect.

(4)  For More Information

Articles about Europe:

(1)  “Endgame Approaching“, Tim Duy (Asst Prof Economics, U OR), 9 November 2011

(2)  “Why Italy’s Days in the Eurozone May Be Numbered“, Nouriel Roubini, Roubini Global Economics, 10 November

(3)  “Is This the End of the Faith-Based European Monetary Union?“, L. Randall Wray (Prof Economics, U Missouri-Kansas City), Roubini Global Economics, 10 November 2011

(4)  “Europe’s Next Nightmare“, Dani Rodrik (Prof Political Economy, Harvard), 9 November 2011 — Opening:

“As if the economic ramifications of a full-blown Greek default were not terrifying enough, the political consequences could be far worse. A chaotic eurozone breakup would cause irreparable damage to the European integration project, the central pillar of Europe’s political stability since World War II. It would destabilize not only the highly-indebted European periphery, but also core countries like France and Germany, which have been the architects of that project.”

Other posts about the crisis of Europe:

  1. The post-WWII geopolitical regime is dying. Chapter One , 21 November 2007 — Why the current geopolitical order is unstable, describing the policy choices that brought us here.
  2. Can the European Monetary Union survive the next recession?, 11 July 2008
  3. The periphery of Europe – a flashpoint to the global economy, 8 February 2010
  4. A great speech by the PM of Greece. How soon until an American President says similar words?, 3 March 2010
  5. Governments cannot go bankrupt, 2 April 2010
  6. Our government’s finances are broken. How do we compare with our peers?, 8 April 2010
  7. The EU does Kabuki for Greece. Is it the next domino to fall?, 14 April 2010
  8. About the Euro crisis: the experts are wrong; the German people are right., 7 May 2010
  9. Former Central Bank Head Karl Otto Pöhl says bailout plan is all about ‘rescuing banks and rich Greeks’, 20 May 2010
  10. The Fate of Europe, nearing the point of decision, 13 September 2011
  11. Europe drifts towards the brink of a cataclysm, 26 September 2011
  12. Delusions about easy fixes for Europe, dreaming during the calm before the storm, 30 September 2011
  13. Every day the new world emerges, yet we see it not.  Like today, as Europe begs China for loans, 15 September 2011
  14. Is Europe primed for chaos, as it was in July 1914?, 7 October 2011
  15. We see the outlines of the next cure for Europe.  Will it work?, 14 October 2011
  16. Today Europe’s leaders took another step towards the edge of the cliff, 27 October 2011
  17. Where to from here, Europe?  Some experts share their views., 8 November 2011
  18. Status report on Europe’s slow re-birth (first, the current system must die), 10 November 2011
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9 Comments leave one →
  1. houswife77 permalink
    11 November 2011 12:31 am

    The big if: If Russia becomes a WTO member, the new trade might allow Europe to “outgrow” the debt.

    Like

    • 11 November 2011 12:53 am

      Please explain. I do not understand this comment. What “big trade”?

      WTO membership is not something Russia would pay much for. Resource exports are always welcome by nations who need them.

      Like

  2. Jose Garcia permalink
    11 November 2011 3:23 pm

    Will the new Greek prime minister be able to pull it off? He has no political experience. From what I read about him he is more of a college professor that an elected official.

    Like

  3. whirlwind21 permalink
    11 November 2011 3:54 pm

    Probably this will result in an economic collapse? At least thats what Im getting by all of the doom and gloom on the news.

    Like

    • 11 November 2011 4:02 pm

      I know of no expert forecasting a broad collapse, of any kind, in response to these issues. Recessions are not collapses. Depressions are not collapses. Both are commonplaces of history, normal dynamics of free market economic systems.

      Like

  4. Jose Garcia permalink
    11 November 2011 6:59 pm

    Honorable Maximus, what I meant by “pull it off” was that the new prime minister would finally stabilze the situation and Greece would be on a path of recovery, if it’s at all possible now.

    Like

    • 11 November 2011 8:32 pm

      We can only guess at the future under such uncertain conditions. But with the current policy mix imposed by Germany and France (and a recession looming), recovery would require electing Jesus as PM. IMO it’s beyond human power unless the situation changes dramatically.

      Which means that it will change dramatically, eventually. IMO, certainly sometime in 2012. Guessing, perhaps much earlier.

      Like

  5. annanic permalink
    12 November 2011 12:03 am

    Poor Europeans , living in holes in the ground , boiling twigs to eat , making ragged clothes out of old sandbags . How they wish they lived in Burkino Faso or Nepal !
    ‘Another night of this armagaddon and my children will die ‘, said Aristide , 53 in Livnia.’ At night they scream about prowling drachmas and cannot sleep . Merkels come out the ground and bite them . My wife has sarcozys in her bladder and we cannot afford the doctor. Please give generously through justgiving.com. to your cousins in Europe ‘.
    ‘ Beyond human power ‘ said Fabius , 67, in Utrecht . ‘ Only Jesus can save our poor governments’.

    Like

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