In the recent elections in Greece, people have voted to give a slender majority to parties that have pledged to keep Greece within the euro arrangement, Greeks have in effect given their consent to the slow-bleeding of the economy through austerity measures: this will manifest itself in the coming months in cuts to government programmes and welfare measures.
But the Eurozone’s problems are nowhere near a solution. Spain and Italy are on shaky ground. Austerity won’t work. It just risks pushing Greece into a 1930s-style Depression, and perversely establishing the conditions for Greece to be forced out of the monetary union. And whenever Greece keels over, the other dominos too – Spain, Italy, perhaps even France – are at risk.
Greece is in its fifth year of recession, largely as a result of the savage austerity measures imposed as a condition for the lifeline of bailouts. And that misery is to be compounded by yet more austerity measures that voters have just signed on for.
Paul Krugman says in this article:
So how did Greece get into so much trouble? Blame the euro.
Fifteen years ago Greece was no paradise, but it wasn’t in crisis either. Unemployment was high but not catastrophic, and the nation more or less paid its way on world markets, earning enough from exports, tourism, shipping and other sources to more or less pay for its imports.
Then Greece joined the euro, and a terrible thing happened: people started believing that it was a safe place to invest. Foreign money poured into Greece, some but not all of it financing government deficits; the economy boomed; inflation rose; and Greece became increasingly uncompetitive. To be sure, the Greeks squandered much if not most of the money that came flooding in, but then so did everyone else who got caught up in the euro bubble.
And then the bubble burst, at which point the fundamental flaws in the whole euro system became all too apparent
Ask yourself, why does the dollar area — also known as the United States of America — more or less work, without the kind of severe regional crises now afflicting Europe? The answer is that we have a strong central government, and the activities of this government in effect provide automatic bailouts to states that get in trouble.
Consider, for example, what would be happening to Florida right now, in the aftermath of its huge housing bubble, if the state had to come up with the money for Social Security and Medicare out of its own suddenly reduced revenues. Luckily for Florida, Washington rather than Tallahassee is picking up the tab, which means that Florida is in effect receiving a bailout on a scale no European nation could dream of.
Or consider an older example, the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, which was largely a Texas affair. Taxpayers ended up paying a huge sum to clean up the mess — but the vast majority of those taxpayers were in states other than Texas. Again, the state received an automatic bailout on a scale inconceivable in modern Europe.
So Greece, although not without sin, is mainly in trouble thanks to the arrogance of European officials, mostly from richer countries, who convinced themselves that they could make a single currency work without a single government. And these same officials have made the situation even worse by insisting, in the teeth of the evidence, that all the currency’s troubles were caused by irresponsible behavior on the part of those Southern Europeans, and that everything would work out if only people were willing to suffer some more.
Which brings us to Sunday’s Greek election, which ended up settling nothing. The governing coalition may have managed to stay in power, although even that’s not clear (the junior partner in the coalition is threatening to defect). But the Greeks can’t solve this crisis anyway.
The only way the euro might — might — be saved is if the Germans and the European Central Bank realize that they’re the ones who need to change their behavior, spending more and, yes, accepting higher inflation. If not — well, Greece will basically go down in history as the victim of other people’s hubris.