BRUSSELS—Depending on whose narrative you believe, the deepening economic crisis in Greece proves (a) that the dysfunctional and dissolute Greeks just couldn’t get their act together and keep the reform commitments that they made in exchange for debt relief from the European authorities; or (b) it only proves that austerity breeds more austerity.
Cut public spending and wages, and raise taxes in a recession, and you just dig yourself a deeper hole. Since only about 20 percent of the Greek economy is exports and less than 40 percent of export costs are wages, slashing wages just doesn’t produce much of a bounce, especially when the rest of Europe’s economy is contracting too.
Not an actual billionaire. (Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)
Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multi-millionaires and billionaires? Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive (you may remember the time when hedge fund billionaire Steven Schwarzman said that President Obama suggesting that we eliminate the "carried interest loophole," which allows hedge fund managers to pay taxes at only the 15 percent capital gains rate instead of standard income tax rates, was "like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939"). America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right.
Housing prices fell again in March—but barely—stirring hopes that perhaps the market may finally be on the rebound. “We’ve turned the corner,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates. “This was always going to be a very gradual process. No one expected a real sharp housing recovery.”
After last week’s fight over Bain Capital, the Romney campaign is returning to safer ground with a renewed attack on Obama’s handling of the economy:
“President Obama has never managed anything other than his own personal narrative. He has never created a job and never run a business. President Obama not only doesn’t understand the economy - he also opposes the free-market principles that built it. His policies have prevented businesses from growing, thriving, and creating jobs, and he has no plans to change course.”
Finance ministers from the 17 eurozone countries agreed this week that it's time to make contingency plans in case Greece drops out. While some leaders—like new French President François Hollande—have floated offering eurobonds to struggling member states like Greece and Spain, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is standing her ground. "We want Greece to remain in the eurozone," Merkel said after yesterday's European Union summit. "But the precondition is that Greece upholds the commitments it has made."
Europe’s leaders emerged far apart at their summit dinner in Brussels Wednesday night. They could not even agree on relatively easy measures to contain the escalating crisis, such as Eurobonds or a greater role for the European Central Bank (ECB).
But at the core of the crisis is an issue that Europe’s leaders are even more reluctant to take on—the ease with which hedge funds and other speculators can drive a small economy into the ground.
In an interview with Time’s Mark Halperin today, Mitt Romney elaborates on his goals for economic growth in his first term. In particular, he hopes to see an unemployment rate of six percent:
I can’t possibly predict precisely what the unemployment rate will be at the end of one year. I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent and perhaps a little lower. It depends in part upon the rate of growth of the globe, as well as what we’re seeing in the United States.
ATHENS—The European austerity caucus led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel is coming apart, but Germany retains the power to block the newly forming coalition for growth as a solution to the eurozone crisis. Tonight’s summit dinner in Brussels is unlikely to produce a breakthrough.
But what a difference an election makes. Since Francois Hollande was elected President of France less than three weeks ago, leaders that had been bullied into siding with the Germans are breaking loose.
Unless Congress and the White House work together to manage the budget sequestration and tax hikes scheduled for the end of the year, the economy could plummet into a mild recession—growth contracting by an estimated annual rate of 1.3 percent—according to the Congressional Budget Office.
In the eyes of most of the world and in our own, to be an American is to be an optimist—entrepreneurial, positive-thinking, and future-oriented. It is not surprising, then, that our politics has not come to grips with the question of national decline. Yes, our governing elites have long debated America’s power in the world and whether it’s eroding. But about the future of Americans, as opposed to the future of the geopolitical hegemon, America, our most important politicians and pundits have much less to say. Despite the bitter public arguments over tax and budget policies, they share the implicit assumption that even harder times are ahead for the majority of Americans—if not 99 percent then at least 75 percent to 80 percent.
Despite the Camp David G8 summit’s support for a shift from austerity to growth, there is no agreement among major western leaders on what growth requires.
Here is an idea whose time has come: a Financial Transactions Tax.
The tax would do two things urgently required by the crisis. It would take some of the profit out of the pure speculation that has created such hardship for countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland whose economies have already been pummeled by recession and by perverse demands for belt tightening.
And a tax on financial trades could raise some serious revenue, which could be put back into green investment and other forms of economic stimulus to help the economies of Europe revive.
Consistent in its suicidal tendencies, the Greek political system failed this week to come to an agreement on forming a coalition government. The leaders of Greece’s political parties—as we know from the published minutes of the meetings with the President of the Republic—showed themselves, with one or two dignified exceptions, tragically unable to rise to the occasion. New elections have now been called. The outcome on June 17, or even the mounting uncertainty of the pre-election period itself, could spell the end of Greece’s membership of the euro.
Facebook makes its blockbuster market debut today, and as The New York Timespoints out, "the trading on Friday is the the equivalent of a must-see Super Bowl Sunday showdown for people who don’t ordinarily watch a football game." The social network's stocks have been priced at $38 a pop, which means the company is valued at $104 billion, making it the second biggest initial public offering ever. If the company's first day on Wall Street follows the tech trend, it could be worth $137 billion by the end of the day.
The voters in France and Greece have rejected the parties of austerity. But it is not yet clear that the party of growth can deliver the recovery that the citizenry wants. On both sides of the Atlantic, the obstacles are more political than economic.
In Europe the conventional wisdom, enforced by Germany and the European Central Bank, still holds that the path to growth is budget restraint. Unfortunately, the more that budgets are tightened, the more economies shrink and the more revenues fall. No large economy has ever deflated its way to recovery.
In a 2009 poll conducted by the BBC, only one out of every four Americans thought that capitalism in its current form was working well. Then came Occupy Wall Street (OWS), a physical manifestation of the anger of millions of Americans at an economic system in which big banks are bailed out by taxpayers only to turn around and pay billions in bonuses while filing record home foreclosures. Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, our nation's total income rose by $528 billion, but of that economic growth, 88 percent went to corporate profits and just 1 percent—that's right, 1 percent—went to workers.