Can the Euro Be Saved?
Across the eurozone, political leaders are entering a state of paralysis: citizens want to remain in the EU, but they also want an end to austerity and the return of prosperity. So long as Germany tells them they can’t have both, there can be only one outcome: more pain, more suffering, more unemployment, and even slower growth.
NEW YORK – The euro may be approaching another crisis. Italy, the eurozone’s third largest economy, has chosen what can at best be described as a Euroskeptic government. This should surprise no one. The backlash in Italy is another predictable (and predicted) episode in the long saga of a poorly designed currency arrangement, in which the dominant power, Germany, impedes the necessary reforms and insists on policies that exacerbate the inherent problems, using rhetoric seemingly intended to inflame passions.
Italy has been performing poorly since the euro’s launch. Its real (inflation-adjusted) GDP in 2016 was the same as it was in 2001. But the eurozone as a whole has not been doing well, either. From 2008 to 2016, its real GDP increased by just 3% in total. In 2000, a year after the euro was introduced, the US economy was only 13% larger than the eurozone; by 2016 it was 26% larger. After real growth of around 2.4% in 2017 – not enough to reverse the damage of a decade of malaise – the eurozone economy is faltering again.
If one country does poorly, blame the country; if many countries are doing poorly, blame the system. And as I put it in my book The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe, the euro was a system almost designed to fail. It took away governments’ main adjustment mechanisms (interest and exchange rates); and, rather than creating new institutions to help countries cope with the diverse situations in which they find themselves, it imposed new strictures – often based on discredited economic and political theories – on deficits, debt, and even structural policies.