The Wrong Austerity Cure

BERKELEY – Fiscal profligacy did not cause the sovereign-debt crisis engulfing Europe, and fiscal austerity will not solve it. On the contrary, such austerity has aggravated the crisis and now threatens to bring down the euro and throw the global economy into another tailspin.

In 2007, Spain and Ireland were models of fiscal rectitude, with far lower debt-to-GDP ratios than Germany had. Investors were not worried about default risk on Spanish or Irish sovereign debt, or about Italy’s chronically large sovereign debt. Indeed, Italy boasted the lowest deficit-to-GDP ratio in the eurozone, and the Italian government had no problem refinancing at attractive interest rates. Even Greece, despite its rapidly eroding competitiveness and increasingly unsustainable fiscal path, could attract the capital that it needed.