Bank Losses

The Spanish Donkey

The Spanish Donkey, a feared torture device from the middle ages, consisted of a wedge on which the victim was seated with weights tied to his or her legs so that with enough weight, the wedge could even slice though the victim’s entire body. Arguably, the Spanish economy now sits atop such a wedge weighed down by deep austerity measures and unprecedented unemployment on the one side and by large unknown losses in the banking system brought about by a real-estate bubble that has burst on the other.

What is worse is that these two aspects weighing the economy down reinforce each other in a manner that is clearly not understood that well by EU policy makers. The Spanish economy today is at a point where every bit of austerity, measured in percentage points of GDP, leads to a reduction in demand that is even larger. So a 1% cut in government spending is likely to lead to a fall in GDP that is larger than 1%. This is because the uncertainty over the future of Spain and the fact that tomorrow, at this point, looks worse than today mean that neither consumers nor businesses are spending so a reduction in government spending translates directly into lost demand in the economy. What’s worse is that the expectation of falling GDP that accompanies such austerity means that both consumers and firms will make further cutbacks to their consumption and investment plans.