NEW YORK – Europe has been in a financial crisis since 2007. When the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers endangered the credit of financial institutions, private credit was replaced by the credit of the state, revealing an unrecognized flaw in the euro. By transferring their right to print money to the European Central Bank (ECB), member countries exposed themselves to the risk of default, like Third World countries heavily indebted in a foreign currency. Commercial banks loaded with weaker countries’ government bonds became potentially insolvent.
There is a parallel between the ongoing euro crisis and the international banking crisis of 1982. Back then, the International Monetary Fund saved the global banking system by lending just enough money to heavily indebted countries; default was avoided, but at the cost of a lasting depression. Latin America suffered a lost decade.
Germany is playing the same role today as the IMF did then. The setting differs, but the effect is the same. Creditors are shifting the entire burden of adjustment on to the debtor countries and avoiding their own responsibility.
The euro crisis is a complex mixture of banking and sovereign-debt problems, as well as divergences in economic performance that have given rise to balance-of-payments imbalances within the eurozone. The authorities did not understand the complexity of the crisis, let alone see a solution. So they tried to buy time.