Monday, April 16, 2012

Krugman Puts Europe on Suicide Watch

Princeton economist, New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman wonders if Europe's political leadership has a death wish.

"The question then was whether this brave and effective action [of the European Central Bank] would be the start of a broader rethink, whether European leaders would use the breathing space the bank had created to reconsider the policies that brought matters to a head in the first place.

"But they didn’t. Instead, they doubled down on their failed policies and ideas. And it’s getting harder and harder to believe that anything will get them to change course. 

"Consider the state of affairs in Spain,  which is now the epicenter of the crisis. Never mind talk of recession; Spain is in full-on depression, with the overall unemployment rate at 23.6 percent, comparable to America at the depths of the Great Depression,  and the youth unemployment rate over 50 percent. This can’t go on — and the realization that it can’t go on is what is sending Spanish borrowing costs ever higher. 

 "...Nonetheless, the prescription coming from Berlin and Frankfurt is, you guessed it, even more fiscal austerity.

"This is, not to mince words, just insane. Europe has had several years of experience with harsh austerity programs, and the results are exactly what students of history told you would happen: such programs push depressed economies even deeper into depression. And because investors look at the state of a nation’s economy when assessing its ability to repay debt, austerity programs haven’t even worked as a way to reduce borrowing costs."

Krugman argues that if European leaders are to prevent continental economic suicide they have two choices - either scrap the Euro and restore the old national currencies, or keep the Euro bolstered by expansionary monetary policies accepting inevitable inflation and many years of agonizingly slow recovery.
"What we’re actually seeing, however, is complete inflexibility. In March, European leaders signed a fiscal pact that in effect locks in fiscal austerity as the response to any and all problems. Meanwhile, key officials at the central bank are making a point of emphasizing the bank’s willingness to raise rates at the slightest hint of higher inflation.

"So it’s hard to avoid a sense of despair. Rather than admit that they’ve been wrong, European leaders seem determined to drive their economy — and their society — off a cliff. And the whole world will pay the price."

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