CAMBRIDGE – Europe is now struggling with the inevitable adverse consequences of imposing a single currency on a very heterogeneous collection of countries. But the budget crisis in Greece and the risk of insolvency in Italy and Spain are just part of the problem caused by the single currency. The fragility of the major European banks, high unemployment rates, and the large intra-European trade imbalance (Germany’s $200 billion current-account surplus versus the combined $300 billion current-account deficit in the rest of the eurozone) also reflect the use of the euro.
European politicians who insisted on introducing the euro in 1999 ignored the warnings of economists who predicted that a single currency for all of Europe would create serious problems. The euro’s advocates were focused on the goal of European political integration, and saw the single currency as part of the process of creating a sense of political community in Europe. They rallied popular support with the slogan “One Market, One Money,” arguing that the free-trade area created by the European Union would succeed only with a single currency.
Neither history nor economic logic supported that view. Indeed, EU trade functions well, despite the fact that only 17 of the Union’s 27 members use the euro.
But the key argument made by European officials and other defenders of the euro has been that, because a single currency works well in the United States, it should also work well in Europe. After all, both are large, continental, and diverse economies. But that argument overlooks three important differences between the US and Europe.