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Europe’s 15-Year Slump

The European Union’s supporters celebrate the survival of the euro, the fact that public debt is no longer the threat it was, and, crucially, that their mercantilist business model remains intact. But it has come at a steep price: Europe’s permanent stagnation and continuing fragmentation.

ATHENS – Europe is languishing in a long-term economic slump whose origins lay in Wall Street’s near-death experience in 2008. There have, of course, been subsequent spurts of growth (and hope), but these tend to fizzle out soon after they appear.

Given the European Union’s policy choices, it could not have been otherwise. These policies reflected the eurozone’s faulty design and guaranteed chronically low investment at precisely the time massive investments were necessary to shift Europe’s aging industrial base from dirty energy, chemicals, and the internal combustion engine to cloud capital and green technologies.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the policy response to the chain reaction triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 was similar. The United States and the EU carried out history’s grandest and most cynical transfer of private losses from the books of quasi-criminal financiers onto public debt ledgers, combined with fiscal austerity to rein in burgeoning public debt. The result? A massive liquidity trap that increased public debt and led to the greatest disconnect ever between available liquidity and real capital investment.