Europe’s Lost Keynesians

CAMBRIDGE – There is no magic Keynesian bullet for the eurozone’s woes. But the spectacularly muddle-headed argument nowadays that too much austerity is killing Europe is not surprising. Commentators are consumed by politics, flailing away at any available target, while the “anti-austerity” masses apparently believe that there are easy cyclical solutions to tough structural problems.

The eurozone’s difficulties, I have long argued, stem from European financial and monetary integration having gotten too far ahead of actual political, fiscal, and banking union. This is not a problem with which Keynes was familiar, much less one that he sought to address.

Above all, any realistic strategy for dealing with the eurozone crisis must involve massive write-downs (forgiveness) of peripheral countries’ debt. These countries’ massive combined bank and government debt – the distinction everywhere in Europe has become blurred – makes rapid sustained growth a dream.

This is hardly the first time I have stressed the need for wholesale debt write-downs. Two years ago, in a commentary called “The Euro’s Pig-Headed Masters,” I wrote that “Europe is in constitutional crisis. No one seems to have the power to impose a sensible resolution of its peripheral countries’ debt crisis. Instead of restructuring the manifestly unsustainable debt burdens of Portugal, Ireland, and Greece (the PIGs), politicians and policymakers are pushing for ever-larger bailout packages with ever-less realistic austerity conditions.”