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The Great Malaise Drags On

NEW YORK – There’s something dismal about writing year-end roundups in the half-decade since the eruption of the 2008 global financial crisis. Yes, we avoided a Great Depression II, but only to emerge into a Great Malaise, with barely increasing incomes for a large proportion of citizens in advanced economies. We can expect more of the same in 2014.

In the United States, median incomes have continued their seemingly relentless decline; for male workers, income has fallen to levels below those attained more than 40 years ago. Europe’s double-dip recession ended in 2013, but no one can responsibly claim that recovery has followed. More than 50% of young people in Spain and Greece remain unemployed. According to the International Monetary Fund, Spain can expect unemployment to be above 25% for years to come.

The real danger for Europe is that a sense of complacency may set in. As the year passed, one could feel the pace of vital institutional reforms in the eurozone slowing. For example, the monetary union needs a real banking union – including not just common supervision, but also common deposit insurance and a common resolution mechanism – and Eurobonds, or some similar vehicle for mutualizing debt. The eurozone is not much closer to implementing either measure than it was a year ago.

One could also sense a renewed commitment to the austerity policies that incited Europe’s double-dip recession. Europe’s continuing stagnation is bad enough; but there is still a significant risk of another crisis in yet another eurozone country, if not next year, in the not-too-distant future.