As the depressing economic and unemployment picture from the European Commission's growth forecasts makes clear, we at Re-Define have been right to be heavily sceptical of the current strategy being pursued by EU policy-makers.
As we warned in July 2012 in our analysis on Spain, the fiscal multipliers being used were highly underestimated. We warned that on the path being pursued, the Spanish economy and employment would be pulled downwards by a combination of fiscal adjustment and related emergent banking problems. This is exactly what has happened. Our analysis was later confirmed by the IMF, when it issued a Mea culpa on having underestimated fiscal multipliers.
This piece was written on the 14th of September and appeared as an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on the 20th of September
Markets have been euphoric about the recent good news in the euro zone: the European Central Bank’s promise of potentially unlimited bond purchases, the announcement of a banking union, Germany’s green light for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a pro-European result in the Dutch election, and a softer EU stance on Greece.
All of this is in marked contrast to the fears of a summer meltdown that never quite happened. Could this be the beginning of the end of the euro zone’s crisis?
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.
The terms of Spain's bank bailout are being finalized and this draft memorandum is a near final verison that lists the timeline and details of how this bailout would be conducted. While the draft looks rather comprehensive on first glance and does have several positive elements, it is also afflicted by a number of glaring omissions.
The first of these is that the memorandum fails to understand or acknowledge the link between the macroeconomic policies being pursued by Spain, for example on cutting its fiscal deficit, and the stability of the financial sector. In fact, many of the new austerity measures adopted by Spain will undermine the objectives of its bank bailout program. It also fails on take note of the social and political realities. Crucially, it makes no reference whatsover to the direct injection of equity by the European crisis funds, now or in the future.
Re-Define's efforts for the Eurozone to adopt a Growth Compact are succeeding, albeit haltingly. Having first laid out such a compact to sit aside the Fiscal Compact in January when we are a lonely voice, we have now been successful in getting most EU institutions and several key leaders to come out in support of such an agreement at least in principle. This post, which frist appeared on Business Insider on Thursday the 3rd of May reminds EU policy makers about what the esstential elements of an agreement to try kickstart growth need to be.
Unless the EU signs up to a Growth Compact soon, we face social, political and economic disaster. Swift action on tax, banking and investment is the way out of the crisis.