Europe’s Lapse of Reason

NEW YORK – At long last, the United States is showing signs of recovery from the crisis that erupted at the end of President George W. Bush’s administration, when the near-implosion of its financial system sent shock waves around the world. But it is not a strong recovery; at best, the gap between where the economy would have been and where it is today is not widening. If it is closing, it is doing so very slowly; the damage wrought by the crisis appears to be long term.

Then again, it could be worse. Across the Atlantic, there are few signs of even a modest US-style recovery: The gap between where Europe is and where it would have been in the absence of the crisis continues to grow. In most European Union countries, per capita GDP is less than it was before the crisis. A lost half-decade is quickly turning into a whole one. Behind the cold statistics, lives are being ruined, dreams are being dashed, and families are falling apart (or not being formed) as stagnation – depression in some places – runs on year after year.

The EU has highly talented, highly educated people. Its member countries have strong legal frameworks and well-functioning societies. Before the crisis, most even had well-functioning economies. In some places, productivity per hour – or the rate of its growth – was among the highest in the world.

But Europe is not a victim. Yes, America mismanaged its economy; but, no, the US did not somehow manage to impose the brunt of the global fallout on Europe. The EU’s malaise is self-inflicted, owing to an unprecedented succession of bad economic decisions, beginning with the creation of the euro. Though intended to unite Europe, in the end the euro has divided it; and, in the absence of the political will to create the institutions that would enable a single currency to work, the damage is not being undone.