Rebalancing the Eurozone

As long as the eurozone's internal divergence in unit labor costs persists, the euro crisis cannot be fully resolved, because current-account deficits and/or slow growth will continue to stalk the “south,” perpetuating worries about sovereign debt and commercial banks. But the burden of adjustment cannot rest solely on the south.

WASHINGTON, DC – The eurozone crisis unfolded primarily as a sovereign-debt crisis mostly on its southern periphery, with interest rates on sovereign bonds at times reaching 6-7% for Italy and Spain, and even higher for other countries. And, because eurozone banks hold a substantial part of their assets in the form of eurozone sovereign bonds, the sovereign-debt crisis became a potential banking crisis, worsened by banks’ other losses, owing, for example, to the collapse of housing prices in Spain. So a key challenge in resolving the eurozone crisis is to reduce the southern countries’ debt burdens.

The change in a country’s debt burden reflects the size of its primary budget balance (the balance minus interest payments) as a share of GDP, as well as the difference between its borrowing costs and its GDP growth rate. When the difference between borrowing costs and growth becomes too large, the primary budget surpluses required to stop debt from increasing become impossible to achieve. Indeed, growth in southern Europe is expected to be close to zero or negative for the next two years, and is not expected to exceed 2-3% even in the longer term.

While not always evident from the headlines, an underlying cause of the eurozone crisis – and now an obstacle for growth in the south – has been the divergence in production costs that developed between the peripheral countries, notably the “south” (specifically, Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal) and the “north” (for simplicity, Germany) during the first decade after the introduction of the euro. Unit labor costs in the four southern countries increased by 36%, 28%, 30%, and 25%, respectively, from 2000 to 2010, compared to less than 5% in Germany, resulting in an end-2010 cumulative divergence above 30% in Greece and more than 20% in Portugal, Italy, and Spain.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/FgNYrY9;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now