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November 11, 2011

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Paul Krugman: Legends of the Fail

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 12:24 AM PST

The moral of the story:

Legends of the Fail, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...Not long ago, European leaders were insisting that Greece could and should stay on the euro while paying its debts in full. Now, with Italy falling off a cliff, it's hard to see how the euro can survive at all.
But what's the meaning of the eurodebacle? As always happens when disaster strikes, there's a rush by ideologues to claim that the disaster vindicates their views. So it's time to start debunking. ...
I've been hearing two claims, both false: that Europe's woes reflect the failure of welfare states..., and that Europe's crisis makes the case for immediate fiscal austerity in the United States.
The assertion that Europe's crisis proves that the welfare state doesn't work comes from many Republicans. ... The idea, presumably, is that the crisis countries are in trouble because they're groaning under the burden of high government spending. But .. the nations now in crisis don't have bigger welfare states than the nations doing well — if anything, the correlation runs the other way. Sweden, with its famously high benefits, is a star performer... Meanwhile, before the crisis ... spending on welfare-state programs ... was lower, as a percentage of national income, in all of the nations now in trouble than in Germany... Oh, and Canada ... has weathered the crisis better than we have.
The euro crisis, then, says nothing about the sustainability of the welfare state. But does it make the case for belt-tightening in a depressed economy?
You hear that claim all the time. America, we're told, had better slash spending right away or we'll end up like Greece or Italy. Again, however, the facts tell a different story.
First, if you look around the world you see that the big determining factor for interest rates isn't the level of government debt but whether a government borrows in its own currency. ...
What has happened, it turns out, is that by going on the euro, Spain and Italy ... have to borrow in someone else's currency, with all the loss of flexibility that implies. ... America, which borrows in dollars, doesn't have that problem.
The other thing you need to know is that in the face of the current crisis, austerity has been a failure everywhere it has been tried...
The moral of the story, then, is to beware of ideologues who are trying to hijack the European crisis on behalf of their agendas. If we listen to those ideologues, all we'll end up doing is making our own problems — which are different from Europe's, but arguably just as severe — even worse.

Links for 2011-11-11

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 12:06 AM PST

Keynes vs. Hayek

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 01:17 PM PST

"Could the ECB become the Central Fiscal Authority?"

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 12:06 PM PST

Nick Rowe says the ECB needs to step in and save the Euro (I've called for fiscal federalism as a stabilization tool, but Nick is making a different point -- how the ECB can accomplish this on its own by using its powers to act as a central fiscal authority):

Could the ECB become the central fiscal authority?, by Nick Rowe: There is only one way to save the Euro now. The ECB acts as lender of last resort to the 17 Eurozone governments. But nobody would want to act as lender of last resort to a deadbeat, and the ECB wouldn't want to act as lender of last resort to a fiscal deadbeat. With the guarantee of unlimited loans from the ECB, the fiscal deadbeat would have every incentive to keep on borrowing and spending unlimited amounts. It's a mix of: the free-rider problem (because they are only one in 17, and even less than that for a small country); and the Samaritan's dilemma (if they know you are going to help them get out of trouble, they are not going to stay out of trouble).
The Eurozone lacks a central fiscal authority to match the central monetary authority. And it seems to lack the ability to create a central fiscal authority in the normal way. Nobody seems to have the power to exert that central fiscal authority, and force the 17 governments to do what they are told.
But the ECB does have that power. It can say to each of the 17 governments: "We will act as your lender of last resort if and only if you do what we say. If you don't do what we say, we will loudly announce that we will no longer act as your lender of last resort, and the bond markets will make mincemeat of your bonds, and there will be runs on all your banks."
In fact, the ECB is the only body that does have that power. I'm not talking about legal power. It's long past that stage of the game. Good central banks ignore all the rules in an emergency (as Brad DeLong tells us the Bank of England did for a century). The ECB has the de facto power to save any or all of the 17 countries. But it won't use that power unconditionally. It has to make the 17 governments do what it tells them to do. It has the power to do that. "Do what we say, or your country is toast".
The normal question in political macroeconomy is whether the monetary authority should have independence from the fiscal authority. It's time, in the Eurozone, to reverse that question. Should the 17 fiscal authorities have independence from the one monetary authority?
Is this democratic? Of course not. Might it happen? I don't know.

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