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Europe: Le terrible échec de la politique d’austérité économique

February 21, 2012 4 comments

For months, I have been arguing that economic austerity in time of severe economic downturn is highly counter-productive. The last thing the economy of a country needs when a country is going through a recessionary cycle (or experiencing a contraction of its economic activities like in many European countries) is a drastic reduction of public spending. The reason for that is very simple: when the economy is in a recessionary cycle, an influx of spending (even deficit spending) is a must to boost and trigger economic growth, consumption, create jobs, and restart the economic engines against. Once those economic engines are restarted, then an increase in taxes (on the highest brackets) and progressive cuts in spending (spending in non-economic growth sectors) can be established again. Cutting spending when spending is needed the most is like depriving a patient of a blood transfusion when that patient is heavily hemorrhaging from every orifice, which would ultimately lead to the death of the patient.

Well, European countries of the eurozone such as France, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and i add to them the U.K (I am not even going to talk about Greece in this post. My position on Greece has been clearly stated in previous posts here and specially here) have been engaged in drastic  reductions of their public spending since the beginning of this crisis. These are the infamous austerity policy packages that most eurozone countries (and the U.K) have put in place to calm down financial markets. The result is an economic growth close to zero in almost all the eurozone (and the U.K). The economic forecast for 2013 and 2014 if the same policies are followed is even worse–i.e., an economic growth around 0% leading to a long lasting recession, high unemployment, and even higher public deficits. These countries fundamentally misunderstood the demands of the financial markets. What markets (across the globe) have demanded since the beginning of the euroze crisis is not an immediate and a drastic reduction of public deficits, but credible plans and policies for generating positive economic growth again. Most markets have already factored in and digested the fact that the eurozone countries have high deficits and those deficits won’t be reduced anytime soon, and the debt won’t be repaid in the foreseeable future. There is nothing that can be done about that in the short-term, and worrying about balancing budgets and cutting spending during a recession is an economic suicide.

This fundamental misunderstanding of the crisis led most European political leaders (best example of this misguided strategy is David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy) to engage in crafting crazy austerity packages to reduce the yield on government bonds and securities (which means in everyday language, borrowing money at a lower interest rate). And in doing so, these political leaders sacrificed long-term economic growth for short-term financial gain and an ephemeral stability. At the end, they pretty much got nothing (most eurozone countries lost their triple-A rating–except Germany–and most eurozone banks are in a bad financial situation). This strategy would only lead to the deepening of the economic downturn on the short-term, and turning it into a long-term economic stagnation.

This is what has been happening in the eurozone countries (and England), and the data recently released by the IMF, OECD, and the Government Growth & Development Center illustrate  that clearly. Countries engaged in cutting spending (what i call slash-and-burn-economics) and austerity policies are performing worse than countries that did not. In fact, the data show that countries that adopted austerity packages have worsened their economic situation.

For a better understanding of this, i yield the floor to Dr. Paul Krugman, Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Centenary Professor at the London School of Economics, and winner of the  Nobel Prize in Economics (aka Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences) for his work on New Trade Theory and New Economic Geography. Since the beginning of the crisis, Dr. Krugman has been writing a series of articles in the New Times explaining the origin(s) of the crisis and advocating for the soundest way of getting out of it. Needless to say that Dr. Krugman has been right on almost everything he has said.

January 22, 2012

Is Our Economy Healing?

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How goes the state of the union? Well, the state of the economy remains terrible. Three years after President Obama’s inauguration and two and a half years since the official end of the recession, unemployment remains painfully high.

But there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times. And we wouldn’t be on that road if Mr. Obama had given in to Republican demands that he slash spending, or the Federal Reserve had given in to Republican demands that it tighten money.

Why am I letting a bit of optimism break through the clouds? Recent economic data have been a bit better, but we’ve already had several false dawns on that front. More important, there’s evidence that the two great problems at the root of our slump — the housing bust and excessive private debt — are finally easing.

On housing: as everyone now knows (but oh, the abuse heaped on anyone pointing it out while it was happening!), we had a monstrous housing bubble between 2000 and 2006. Home prices soared, and there was clearly a lot of overbuilding. When the bubble burst, construction — which had been the economy’s main driver during the alleged “Bush boom” — plunged.

But the bubble began deflating almost six years ago; house prices are back to 2003 levels. And after a protracted slump in housing starts, America now looks seriously underprovided with houses, at least by historical standards.

So why aren’t people going out and buying? Because the depressed state of the economy leaves many people who would normally be buying homes either unable to afford them or too worried about job prospects to take the risk.

But the economy is depressed, in large part, because of the housing bust, which immediately suggests the possibility of a virtuous circle: an improving economy leads to a surge in home purchases, which leads to more construction, which strengthens the economy further, and so on. And if you squint hard at recent data, it looks as if something like that may be starting: home sales are up, unemployment claims are down, and builders’ confidence is rising.

Furthermore, the chances for a virtuous circle have been rising, because we’ve made significant progress on the debt front.

That’s not what you hear in public debate, of course, where all the focus is on rising government debt. But anyone who has looked seriously at how we got into this slump knows that private debt, especially household debt, was the real culprit: it was the explosion of household debt during the Bush years that set the stage for the crisis. And the good news is that this private debt has declined in dollar terms, and declined substantially as a percentage of G.D.P., since the end of 2008.

There are, of course, still big risks — above all, the risk that trouble in Europe could derail our own incipient recovery. And thereby hangs a tale — a tale told by a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute.

The report tracks progress on “deleveraging,” the process of bringing down excessive debt levels. It documents substantial progress in the United States, which it contrasts with failure to make progress in Europe. And while the report doesn’t say this explicitly, it’s pretty clear why Europe is doing worse than we are: it’s because European policy makers have been afraid of the wrong things.

In particular, the European Central Bank has been worrying about inflation — even raising interest rates during 2011, only to reverse course later in the year — rather than worrying about how to sustain economic recovery. And fiscal austerity, which is supposed to limit the increase in government debt, has depressed the economy, making it impossible to achieve urgently needed reductions in private debt. The end result is that for all their moralizing about the evils of borrowing, the Europeans aren’t making any progress against excessive debt — whereas we are.

Back to the U.S. situation: my guarded optimism should not be taken as a statement that all is well. We have already suffered enormous, unnecessary damage because of an inadequate response to the slump. We have failed to provide significant mortgage relief, which could have moved us much more quickly to lower debt. And even if my hoped-for virtuous circle is getting under way, it will be years before we get to anything resembling full employment.

But things could have been worse; they would have been worse if we had followed the policies demanded by Mr. Obama’s opponents. For as I said at the beginning, Republicans have been demanding that the Fed stop trying to bring down interest rates and that federal spending be slashed immediately — which amounts to demanding that we emulate Europe’s failure.

And if this year’s election brings the wrong ideology to power, America’s nascent recovery might well be snuffed out.

January 26, 2012, 11:04 am

The Greater Depression

One thing everyone always says is that while this Lesser Depression may be bad, it’s nothing like the Great Depression.

But this is in part an America-centered view: we had a very bad Great Depression, and have done better than many other countries this time around. As Jonathan Portes at Not the Treasury View points out, the ongoing slump in Britain is now longer and deeper than the slump in the 1930s (the figure shows how far real GDP was below its previous peak in various British recessions; the red line is 1930-34, the black line the current slump):

I believe that when I began criticizing the Cameron government’s push for austerity, some right-leaning British papers demanded that I shut up. But the original critique of austerity is holding up pretty well, if you ask me.

January 28, 2012, 1:47 pm

The Worse-than Club

Further thoughts on the observation that the current British slump has now gone on longer than the slump of the 1930s. Is Britain unique?

No, it isn’t.

The NIESR has developed a monthly GDP series for Britain, which lets it use real-time data for the comparison. I can’t replicate that, but I can use the Maddison historical data and IMF data — including projections for 2012 and 2013 — to do some comparisons. When you do this for the UK, the worse-than pops right out (I use annual data; year zero is 1929 or 2007, and real GDP is expressed as a percentage of the pre-crisis peak in each case):

France and Germany are doing much better than in the early 1930s — but then France and Germany had terrible, deflationist policies in the early 1930s. (It was the Brüning deflation, not the Weimar inflation, that brought you-know-who to power).

With two of Europe’s big four economies doing worse than they did in the Great Depression, at least in terms of GDP — and that’s three of five if you count Spain — do you think the austerity advocates might consider that maybe, possibly, they’re on the wrong track?

January 29, 2012

The Austerity Debacle

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Last week the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a British think tank, released a startling chart comparing the current slump with past recessions and recoveries. It turns out that by one important measure — changes in real G.D.P. since the recession began — Britain is doing worse this time than it did during the Great Depression. Four years into the Depression, British G.D.P. had regained its previous peak; four years after the Great Recession began, Britain is nowhere close to regaining its lost ground.

Nor is Britain unique. Italy is also doing worse than it did in the 1930s — and with Spain clearly headed for a double-dip recession, that makes three of Europe’s big five economies members of the worse-than club. Yes, there are some caveats and complications. But this nonetheless represents a stunning failure of policy.

And it’s a failure, in particular, of the austerity doctrine that has dominated elite policy discussion both in Europe and, to a large extent, in the United States for the past two years.

O.K., about those caveats: On one side, British unemployment was much higher in the 1930s than it is now, because the British economy was depressed — mainly thanks to an ill-advised return to the gold standard — even before the Depression struck. On the other side, Britain had a notably mild Depression compared with the United States.

Even so, surpassing the track record of the 1930s shouldn’t be a tough challenge. Haven’t we learned a lot about economic management over the last 80 years? Yes, we have — but in Britain and elsewhere, the policy elite decided to throw that hard-won knowledge out the window, and rely on ideologically convenient wishful thinking instead.

Britain, in particular, was supposed to be a showcase for “expansionary austerity,” the notion that instead of increasing government spending to fight recessions, you should slash spending instead — and that this would lead to faster economic growth. “Those who argue that dealing with our deficit and promoting growth are somehow alternatives are wrong,” declared David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister. “You cannot put off the first in order to promote the second.”

How could the economy thrive when unemployment was already high, and government policies were directly reducing employment even further? Confidence! “I firmly believe,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet — at the time the president of the European Central Bank, and a strong advocate of the doctrine of expansionary austerity — “that in the current circumstances confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery, because confidence is the key factor today.”

Such invocations of the confidence fairy were never plausible; researchers at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere quickly debunked the supposed evidence that spending cuts create jobs. Yet influential people on both sides of the Atlantic heaped praise on the prophets of austerity, Mr. Cameron in particular, because the doctrine of expansionary austerity dovetailed with their ideological agendas.

Thus in October 2010 David Broder, who virtually embodied conventional wisdom, praised Mr. Cameron for his boldness, and in particular for “brushing aside the warnings of economists that the sudden, severe medicine could cut short Britain’s economic recovery and throw the nation back into recession.” He then called on President Obama to “do a Cameron” and pursue “a radical rollback of the welfare state now.”

Strange to say, however, those warnings from economists proved all too accurate. And we’re quite fortunate that Mr. Obama did not, in fact, do a Cameron.

Which is not to say that all is well with U.S. policy. True, the federal government has avoided all-out austerity. But state and local governments, which must run more or less balanced budgets, have slashed spending and employment as federal aid runs out — and this has been a major drag on the overall economy. Without those spending cuts, we might already have been on the road to self-sustaining growth; as it is, recovery still hangs in the balance.

And we may get tipped in the wrong direction by Continental Europe, where austerity policies are having the same effect as in Britain, with many signs pointing to recession this year.

The infuriating thing about this tragedy is that it was completely unnecessary. Half a century ago, any economist — or for that matter any undergraduate who had read Paul Samuelson’s textbook “Economics” — could have told you that austerity in the face of depression was a very bad idea. But policy makers, pundits and, I’m sorry to say, many economists decided, largely for political reasons, to forget what they used to know. And millions of workers are paying the price for their willful amnesia.

February 19, 2012

Pain Without Gain

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Last week the European Commission confirmed what everyone suspected: the economies it surveys are shrinking, not growing. It’s not an official recession yet, but the only real question is how deep the downturn will be.

And this downturn is hitting nations that have never recovered from the last recession. For all America’s troubles, its gross domestic product has finally surpassed its pre-crisis peak; Europe’s has not. And some nations are suffering Great Depression-level pain: Greece and Ireland have had double-digit declines in output, Spain has 23 percent unemployment, Britain’s slump has now gone on longer than its slump in the 1930s.

Worse yet, European leaders — and quite a few influential players here — are still wedded to the economic doctrine responsible for this disaster.

For things didn’t have to be this bad. Greece would have been in deep trouble no matter what policy decisions were taken, and the same is true, to a lesser extent, of other nations around Europe’s periphery. But matters were made far worse than necessary by the way Europe’s leaders, and more broadly its policy elite, substituted moralizing for analysis, fantasies for the lessons of history.

Specifically, in early 2010 austerity economics — the insistence that governments should slash spending even in the face of high unemployment — became all the rage in European capitals. The doctrine asserted that the direct negative effects of spending cuts on employment would be offset by changes in “confidence,” that savage spending cuts would lead to a surge in consumer and business spending, while nations failing to make such cuts would see capital flight and soaring interest rates. If this sounds to you like something Herbert Hoover might have said, you’re right: It does and he did.

Now the results are in — and they’re exactly what three generations’ worth of economic analysis and all the lessons of history should have told you would happen. The confidence fairy has failed to show up: none of the countries slashing spending have seen the predicted private-sector surge. Instead, the depressing effects of fiscal austerity have been reinforced by falling private spending.

Furthermore, bond markets keep refusing to cooperate. Even austerity’s star pupils, countries that, like Portugal and Ireland, have done everything that was demanded of them, still face sky-high borrowing costs. Why? Because spending cuts have deeply depressed their economies, undermining their tax bases to such an extent that the ratio of debt to G.D.P., the standard indicator of fiscal progress, is getting worse rather than better.

Meanwhile, countries that didn’t jump on the austerity train — most notably, Japan and the United States — continue to have very low borrowing costs, defying the dire predictions of fiscal hawks.

Now, not everything has gone wrong. Late last year Spanish and Italian borrowing costs shot up, threatening a general financial meltdown. Those costs have now subsided, amid general sighs of relief. But this good news was actually a triumph of anti-austerity: Mario Draghi, the new president of the European Central Bank, brushed aside the inflation-worriers and engineered a large expansion of credit, which was just what the doctor ordered.

So what will it take to convince the Pain Caucus, the people on both sides of the Atlantic who insist that we can cut our way to prosperity, that they are wrong?

After all, the usual suspects were quick to pronounce the idea of fiscal stimulus dead for all time after President Obama’s efforts failed to produce a quick fall in unemployment — even though many economists warned in advance that the stimulus was too small. Yet as far as I can tell, austerity is still considered responsible and necessary despite its catastrophic failure in practice.

The point is that we could actually do a lot to help our economies simply by reversing the destructive austerity of the last two years. That’s true even in America, which has avoided full-fledged austerity at the federal level but has seen big spending and employment cuts at the state and local level. Remember all the fuss about whether there were enough “shovel ready” projects to make large-scale stimulus feasible? Well, never mind: all the federal government needs to do to give the economy a big boost is provide aid to lower-level governments, allowing these governments to rehire the hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers they have laid off and restart the building and maintenance projects they have canceled.

Look, I understand why influential people are reluctant to admit that policy ideas they thought reflected deep wisdom actually amounted to utter, destructive folly. But it’s time to put delusional beliefs about the virtues of austerity in a depressed economy behind us.

Pourquoi le prix du baril de pétrole défie la loi de l’offre et de la demande?

January 15, 2012 5 comments
I was going to write a post on the topic of oil prices, but Fareed beat me to it. The simple puzzle presented in the column below is that commodities prices are subject to the supply and demand rule. Constant supply, and a drop in demand would lead to a drop in the price. The question is why don’t we see this adjustment in the oil market. After all, the economies of China and India are cooling down (which is not good for reasons i will tackle in my next post), and the economies of the eurozone are on life-support literally. You add winter and the fact that people drive less during this time of the year, and the real demand for  oil is at a lower level compared with this past summer or with the summer prior to that. However, the price of the barrel is at $113, which is twice the price it was trading at 5 years ago when the global economy was booming and the demand for at all time high. The question is, why? What is driving oil prices up in a time of a low demand? This what Fareed tries to explain and i wholeheartedly agree with his analysis

Why oil prices will stay high

By Fareed Zakaria

The next time you pay $3.50 dollars for a gallon of gas, stop and think about a basic rule of economics. When demand is low and supply is strong, prices should fall. Right?

Now apply that to oil. People drive less in the winter. The American economy is slow. The Euro Zone has stalled. China and India are slowing down. So demand for oil worldwide is low. So why is oil trading high at $113 a barrel, more than twice the price it was trading at five years ago when the global economy was booming? What in the world is going on?

There’s a school of thought that suggests the global economy is doing better than we think. China and the U.S. are proving resilient to Europe’s problems and so traders are expecting renewed demand in the world’s two top economies. But another school of thought argues we’re in the midst of a bubble. Speculators have been driving up the price of oil and eventually it will crash.

Now I think that the economic fundamentals really can’t justify oil prices at their current levels. The real driver of high oil is not the stuff you find in the business section of the newspaper – the demand for oil in India and China. It’s on the front page: Global politics.

You see, traders worry about risk. And the biggest risk to oil supplies is the threat of war in the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, in Nigeria mass protests are raising worries about the supply of fuel from there. Venezuela is in a slow-motion collapse because of Hugo Chavez’s mismanagement. There have also been protests in Russia, the world’s top oil producer. And remember the fallout of the Arab Spring – Libya’s oil production in 2011 was severely curtailed. Iraq continues to disappoint with its oil output and its recent political tensions certainly haven’t made things any better.

So a mix of war rhetoric and local troubles in key oil states are factors driving up the price of crude. And that translates to higher prices at the pump. Now that logic suggests that prices will fall when the news calms down.

But perhaps not. Perhaps oil producers want these sky high prices. Usually the major oil producers understand that keeping prices too high in the short term means people start finding alternatives to oil. They start driving more efficiently; they start looking for alternate energies. But this time, oil states face crucial challenges. Look closer at the Arab Spring. The only oil rich country that has been forced into regime change is Libya. Why? The Gulf states lavish subsidies and salary increases on their citizens. They’ve upped spending to record levels to suppress any popular discontent.

I saw some striking numbers this week: Look at the “break-even” costs for the world’s top oil producers. That is the minimum price at which these countries need to sell oil so that they can balance their budgets.

Russia now needs oil at $110 a barrel to manage its finances. For Iraq, the number is $100. Even Saudi Arabia now needs oil to trade around $80 a barrel just to balance its budgets. The numbers are also high for Algeria, Qatar, and Oman. Only a decade ago Saudi Arabia was able to balance its budget with oil prices averaging around $25 a barrel.

So now it is in these countries’ interest to keep oil prices high, which they do by curtailing supply in one way or the other. This is perhaps the most lasting impact of the year of global protest: High oil prices.

So, the bottom line is an oil crash seems unlikely. Even though the engines of global growth are sputtering, be prepared for a period of expensive commutes. Maybe it’s time to trade in your Escalade for a Prius.

Crise de la Dette européenne: Il est temps de restructurer la dette et de nationaliser les banques

August 19, 2011 18 comments

European Debt Crisis: It is time to restructure the debt and to nationalize the banks

The European crisis is getting worse and it is casting a huge cloud of uncertainty on the future of every major economy. What the market is seeing is a thick and blurry shadow on the far horizon. Indeed, the question that the markets have been asking for a long time now, and the EU leaders have not answered it yet is: can the EU countries pay their debts or do they have the ability, structurally, to pay their public debt? And clearly, the markets are saying “No.” The markets have not shown any confidence in the EU institutions and in the leadership to solve this crisis. Instead, what we have seen is that the debt crisis is worsening–it went from the periphery, Greece and Ireland, to the center, Spain and Italy. Right now, there are speculations about the financial health of the French government. This is how spread and serious this crisis has become. Last week, the French ministers of budget and finance, Valarie Pécresse and François Baroin respectively, were forced to publicly defend the solvency of the French government. Both ministers were compelled to call major hedge funds and lobby large banks to calm down the speculations. It is obvious to me (and to everyone who has followed this debt crisis for the last couple of years) that the EU does not have the structural and institutional capability to deal with the crisis. Last week’s Franco-German summit is a perfect example. The French and the Germans agreed not to agree on almost anything. The only possible solution that would have seriously calmed the markets  would have been the establishment of the euro-bonds. Instead, the French and the German leaders agreed on some very weak measures that did not have any calming effect on the markets; they actually raised more fear and speculation.

So, what’s the solution to this protracted European debt crisis? Well, the N-word might be it–i.e., nationalizing the banks and restructuring the debt.

Let me back up and explain why this might be a necessary solution. First, EU politicians have not understood what the markets have been telling them all this time. The message got lost or misunderstood. If they continue to misunderstand this clear message that world markets have been sending, well the future would not be pretty at all.

Second, the downward spiral in all markets has not been caused by the speculators or shorting.  This has been the biggest misdiagnosis of the century, promoted, of course, by the know-nothing media. There are not that many hedge funds that are shorting the market heavily. The decline in stocks and the rising in value of sovereign CDS and treasury notes have been the results of normal market actors and activity.  It is mostly the financial institutions that manage the savings, the pensions, the trusts, the insurance, and so forth, of everyday citizen that have been trying to protect their investments and themselves from risks. In a period of great uncertainty about the future economic growth in the core eurozone countries, and more importantly the ability of EU countries to pay their debts, these financial institutions sought to secure and protect themselves by going to quality investments and safe havens.

Third, it is evident that there is uncertainty out there, and this in turn is making the market extremely jittery, and some days, totally irrational. Last week was a good example. The triple-A status of the French debt was threatened (and it is still threatened), but is this really surprising? For decades France has run a chronic budget deficit, has had a chronically high unemployment rate, and chronically low economic growth. Structurally, France does not have much room to get out of this crisis and get back in the black. It would need to raise taxes and slash entitlement programs. Well, taxes are already high, and entitlement programs are sacrosanct politically. If we compare France to the US (the debt to GDP ratio is 58% for the US and 83% for France), the picture is totally different (capacity to increase taxes, high to moderately high economic growth, job creations, large investments etc). So, the real issue for France is not how to keep the triple-A rating, but how to restore the balance of public finances without stumping growth. The trick for France and other core eurozone countries is to strike  a careful balance between generating economic growth and cutting spending. Instead of Baroin and Pécresse lobbying large banks and financial institutions,  and issuing politically empty statements every other hour to keep France’s triple-A, they should have announced that they have a serious plan to get out of this mess, and to clean up their finances in order to maintain a certain level of consumption and business investments–because without consumption and without investments, there would not be a serious economic growth and/or job creation. As for the triple-A rating, Baroin and Pécresse should have said “on s’en fiche!” Moreover, the market is already behaving as if France does not have a triple-A rating. The market has digested the poor macro-economic indicators of France, and has factored in those variables in all future transactions.

So how does a country take a break from short term market pressures to reinvigorate its long term financial health? That’s where the nationalization of the banks comes in. Well, we need to understand something very simple: the EU politicians have completely misunderstood what markets want. Cameron, Merkel, Berlusconi, Sarkozy and so forth thought that markets demanded drastic cuts in spending–that markets demanded the so-called austerity packages: slash budgetary spending, slash public investments,  increase taxes, and slash entitlement programs.  So the political leaders in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France, Italy and even Great Britain went on to craft the most drastic austerity packages out there. The risk, however, is to completely kill all economic growth, and they indeed killed it (just look at numbers from the last quarter: almost 0% economic growth in France and Great Britain, abysmal growth in Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, and so forth). This was a stupid policy wrapped in total absurdity. The reaction of the markets around the world was swift, rational and expected. The message was that with this very weak economic growth and with this already over-taxed population, the EU countries cannot possibly pay back all their public debts. This is what markets are really saying. The more austerity policies they introduced (the Golden rule, la regle d’or, proposed by Sarkozy is the latest biggest and most stupidest idea ever proposed), the less confidence markets have in the eurozone politicians. Therefore, to get a break from slashing spending to the core and not having enough capital to reinvest in the economy, a country needs to restructure its debt. This is the only way to create enough breathing room to be able to generate the right macroeconomic conditions to reconnect with and reignite long-term growth. However, restructuring the debt has to be done without the market going totally nuts. This has and must be a highly coordinated political decision taken by all major world economies.  It would even be a great plan if the G7 or G20 (including all eurozone countries and all heavily indebted African countries) could coordinate their actions in such a way to provide a political cover for certain countries to restructure their public debt safely, and also provide guarantees that this restructuring would bring everyone to a balanced budget in certain amount of time (a 2 or 5 year period would be appropriate). Moreover, in order to engage in a serious public debt restructuring, the largest banks in each country must be nationalized for a certain period of time.  Why nationalizing the banks? Simply to decouple banks from market-driven activities. This allows banks to go back to their original charter and mission, which is lending money to businesses and individuals to foster economic growth and employment. Moreover, this would separate investment banks from deposit banks (a glass-steagall kind of plan).

Oh, i can hear the supply-siders screaming moral hazard. Well, when the welfare of a whole continent is at risk with all the social turmoils that more austerity policies may cause, and when worldwide negative spillover effects of a debt crisis that is choking the life out of the eurozone are considered, moral hazard becomes just an empty expression. We are truly facing a serious economic situation these days with serious political and social consequences. The time of the half-baked half-ass measures is over. It is time to put back the economic health of the G20 countries on an even keel with a serious economic growth agenda.

Paul Krugman dismantles Rick Perry’s little Texan miracle

August 15, 2011 1 comment

Let me say it up front, i love Paul Krugman. With Stiglitz, Krugman is probably the most brilliant economist of my time (he won Noble Price  in economics for his work on trade policy and economic geography). Yes, he is a Keynesian, and he is not ashamed of it. Most importantly, he is right about being a Keynesian. But enough about economic theory and paradigms. Krugman is also a brilliant political analyst, and he brings his sharp analytical skills to cut through the horse manure that talking-heads spew on an hourly basis on news cable television and radio. The new steaming pile of horse manure that is being fed to the American people these days is the so-called “Texas-miracle.”  With Governor Rick Perry entering the presidential race this last Saturday, the narrative that has followed him–and of course fed by empty-talking heads like George Will, Newt Stupid-Gingrich and the Cato Institute boys–is that he was able as a Governor to create more jobs in Texas than were created on the national level, on average of course. Thus, Texas was dubbed the miracle state during these dire recessionary times. Of course, this is a myth, and as all myths its fades away when you start systematically and rationally analyzing it. This is exactly what Paul Krugman did in his New Times Ed-Op piece today. He unmiraclized the Texan miracle.

Here is it, enjoy how Krugman systematically dismantles the Texan miracle.

The Texas Unmiracle

By PAUL KRUGMAN

As expected, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, has announced that he is running for president. And we already know what his campaign will be about: faith in miracles.

Some of these miracles will involve things that you’re liable to read in the Bible. But if he wins the Republican nomination, his campaign will probably center on a more secular theme: the alleged economic miracle in Texas, which, it’s often asserted, sailed through the Great Recession almost unscathed thanks to conservative economic policies. And Mr. Perry will claim that he can restore prosperity to America by applying the same policies at a national level.

So what you need to know is that the Texas miracle is a myth, and more broadly that Texan experience offers no useful lessons on how to restore national full employment.

It’s true that Texas entered recession a bit later than the rest of America, mainly because the state’s still energy-heavy economy was buoyed by high oil prices through the first half of 2008. Also, Texas was spared the worst of the housing crisis, partly because it turns out to have surprisingly strict regulation of mortgage lending.

Despite all that, however, from mid-2008 onward unemployment soared in Texas, just as it did almost everywhere else.

In June 2011, the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. That was less than unemployment in collapsed-bubble states like California and Florida, but it was slightly higher than the unemployment rate in New York, and significantly higher than the rate in Massachusetts. By the way, one in four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation, thanks largely to the state’s small-government approach. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has near-universal coverage thanks to health reform very similar to the “job-killing” Affordable Care Act.

So where does the notion of a Texas miracle come from? Mainly from widespread misunderstanding of the economic effects of population growth.

For this much is true about Texas: It has, for many decades, had much faster population growth than the rest of America — about twice as fast since 1990. Several factors underlie this rapid population growth: a high birth rate, immigration from Mexico, and inward migration of Americans from other states, who are attracted to Texas by its warm weather and low cost of living, low housing costs in particular.

And just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a low cost of living. In particular, there’s a good case to be made that zoning policies in many states unnecessarily restrict the supply of housing, and that this is one area where Texas does in fact do something right.

But what does population growth have to do with job growth? Well, the high rate of population growth translates into above-average job growth through a couple of channels. Many of the people moving to Texas — retirees in search of warm winters, middle-class Mexicans in search of a safer life — bring purchasing power that leads to greater local employment. At the same time, the rapid growth in the Texas work force keeps wages low — almost 10 percent of Texan workers earn the minimum wage or less, well above the national average — and these low wages give corporations an incentive to move production to the Lone Star State.

So Texas tends, in good years and bad, to have higher job growth than the rest of America. But it needs lots of new jobs just to keep up with its rising population — and as those unemployment comparisons show, recent employment growth has fallen well short of what’s needed.

If this picture doesn’t look very much like the glowing portrait Texas boosters like to paint, there’s a reason: the glowing portrait is false.

Still, does Texas job growth point the way to faster job growth in the nation as a whole? No.

What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is “Well, duh.” The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs — which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice — involves a fallacy of composition: every state can’t lure jobs away from every other state.

In fact, at a national level lower wages would almost certainly lead to fewer jobs — because they would leave working Americans even less able to cope with the overhang of debt left behind by the housing bubble, an overhang that is at the heart of our economic problem.

So when Mr. Perry presents himself as the candidate who knows how to create jobs, don’t believe him. His prescriptions for job creation would work about as well in practice as his prayer-based attempt to end Texas’s crippling drought.

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