Before any of us properly got the chance to express relief over the absence of a complete catastrophe at last week’s EU summit, Paul Krugman comes along to pour cold water on the idea that the risk of a European-generated global recession has receded:
It comes as something of a shock, even for those of us who have been following the story all along, to realize that more than two years have passed since European leaders committed themselves to their current economic strategy — a strategy based on the notion that fiscal austerity and “internal devaluation” (basically, wage cuts) would solve the problems of debtor nations. In all that time the strategy has produced no success stories; the best the defenders of orthodoxy can do is point to a couple of small Baltic nations that have seen partial recoveries from Depression-level slumps, but are still far poorer than they were before the crisis.
Meanwhile the euro’s crisis has metastasized, spreading from Greece to the far larger economies of Spain and Italy, and Europe as a whole is clearly sliding back into recession. Yet the policy prescriptions coming out of Berlin and Frankfurt have hardly changed at all.
But wait, you say — didn’t last week’s summit meeting produce some movement? Yes, it did. Germany gave a little ground, agreeing both to easier lending conditions for Italy and Spain (but not bond purchases by the European Central Bank) and to a rescue plan for private banks that might actually make some sense (although it’s hard to tell given the lack of detail). But these concessions remain tiny compared with the scale of the problems.
You can read the whole, depressing column, in which Krugman compares “Europe’s Great Illusion” with the belief of European elites just prior to the outbreak of World War I that modern economies had made war “obsolete.”
But the fundamental policy problem, he suggests, is one that obviously resonates with the bar to recovery faced by the United States, even without the Euro-crisis: the monomania of policymakers, most recently exhibited by the Fed, with the task of fighting non-existent inflation.
Yesterday Ryan Cooper did a long, meditative post here at PA suggesting that a preoccupation with inflation could represent generational warfare–the sacrifice of opportunities for younger people by aging elites determined at all costs to maintain the value of their savings and investments. There is no question there is an element of “I’ve got mine” underlying the politics of American conservatives whose political coalition is increasingly old and white (augmented by a culturally disgruntled white working class, particularly strong among men with a sense of disempowerment at the hands of women, the young and minorities).
If that’s the case, Europe’s persistent troubles are ours not just because of the financial ripple effect of euro-meltdown–which Krugman considers still imminent–but because they represent a breakdown of social solidarity that runs deeper than the wallet. I hope this analysis is a warning rather than a diagnosis.