Summary: The Euro-crisis began in March 2010, and yet its causes and basic elements remain widely misunderstood — including, based on their public statements, by many of Europe’s leaders. Here Prof Pettis gives a clear explanation of what’s happening, and of Spain’s only three ways out of this crisis.
Excerpt from “Three cheers for the new data?”
By Michael Pettis (Prof of Finance, Peking University)
November 12, 2012
Republished with his general permission.
Spain’s three options
Finally, and to turn away from China, we seem to be experiencing a renewed period of increased optimism over European prospects, but we should refrain from joining in. The optimism will soon fade. In the great debate over the economies of countries like Spain, we sometimes forget the simple arithmetic of economic rebalancing. This arithmetic, like it or not, severely limits the options open to these countries.
For many years, thanks partly to bad policies in Spain but mainly to aggressive attempts by Germany to achieve growth by forcing a trade surplus onto its European neighbors, Spain, and many other countries in Europe, ran enormous trade deficits. It is easy and popular to blame the greed of the Spanish and the stupidity of the government for the mess in which Spain has found itself, but the policies Germany put into place in the late 1990s guaranteed that Germany, a country that had run massive trade deficits in the 1990s, would run equally massive trade surpluses in the subsequent decade.
Because once they joined the euro the rest of Europe had no control over the value of their currencies and the level of their interest rates, it was inevitable that European countries that had joined the euro with higher-than-average levels of inflation would be forced to respond to German trade surpluses either by forcing up unemployment or by forcing up consumption, and so running the large trade deficits that corresponded to Germany’s trade surplus. No other choice was possible.