NEWPORT BEACH – Two variants of financial crisis continue to wreak havoc on Western economies, fueling joblessness and poverty: the one that we read about regularly in newspapers, involving governments around the world; and a less visible one at the level of small and medium-size businesses and households. Until both are addressed properly, the West will remain burdened by sluggish growth, persistently high unemployment, and excessive income and wealth inequality.
The sovereign-debt crisis is well known. In order to avert a likely depression, governments around the world engaged in fiscal and monetary stimulus in the midst of the global financial crisis. They succeeded in offsetting nasty economic dislocations caused by private-sector deleveraging, but at the cost of encumbering their fiscal balances and their central banks’ balance sheets.
While sovereign credit quality has deteriorated virtually across the board, and will most probably continue to do so, the implications for individual countries vary. Some Western countries – such as Greece – had fragile government accounts from the outset and tipped quickly into persistent crisis mode. There they remain, still failing to provide citizens with a light at the end of what already has been a long tunnel.
Other countries had been fiscally responsible, but were overwhelmed by the liabilities that they had assumed from others (for example, Ireland’s irresponsible banks sank their budget). Still others, including the United States, faced no immediate threat but failed to make progress on longer-term issues. A few, like Germany, had built deep economic and financial resilience through years of fiscal discipline and structural reforms.