Europe’s Inevitable Haircut

BERKELEY – What once could be dismissed as simply a Greek crisis, or simply a Greek and Irish crisis, is now clearly a eurozone crisis. Resolving that crisis is both easier and more difficult than is commonly supposed.

The economics is really quite simple. Greece has a budget problem. Ireland has a banking problem. Portugal has a private-debt problem. Spain has a combination of all three. But, while the specifics differ, the implications are the same: all must now endure excruciatingly painful spending cuts.

The standard way to buffer the effects of austerity is to marry domestic cuts to devaluation of the currency. Devaluation renders exports more competitive, thus substituting external demand for the domestic demand that is being compressed.

But, since none of these countries has a national currency to devalue, they must substitute internal devaluation for external devaluation. They have to cut wages, pensions, and other costs in order to achieve the same gain in competitiveness needed to substitute external demand for internal demand.