BERLIN—Germany, uniquely, is prospering while the rest of Europe sinks deeper into recession. And the recession is substantially the result of the very austerity that Chancellor Angela Merkel is imposing on the other member nations of the European Union.
Why is Germany spared? One good reason and two bad ones.
The good reason is that Germany promotes manufacturing, with sensible training and technology policies. Its industries have partnerships with effective unions. So Germany’s huge export surplus means that it can have tight budget policies at home and still have plenty of good jobs.
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.
ATHENS—To hear the leaders of the European austerity party and a lot of commentators tell it, the upcoming Greek election will be a “referendum” between keeping Greece’s austerity commitments and staying in the Eurozone—or recklessly walking away. A vote for a centrist coalition, supposedly, is a vote for staying in; a vote for the left is a vote for throwing caution to the winds and destroying Greece.
But viewed from Greece, that framing is totally wrong.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the first time in the history of the American republic, the far right has captured one of our two major parties. Whether the issue is denial of science, restriction of fundamental rights and liberties, the substitution of big money for the vote, the destruction of the middle class, or the wreckage of even modest social supports, we live in ominous times.
Unfortunately, it is also a precarious time for one of America’s core progressive institutions—this magazine.
As a founding editor of The American Prospect, I have never written a column like this one, and I hope never to write another.
The Prospect could cease publication if we don’t bridge a serious funding gap.
The Social Security Trustees have just projected that the date by which the system will no longer be able to meet all of its payouts has been moved up three years from 2036 to 2033. This has prompted the usual clucking about the need for drastic benefit cuts of partial privatization right now.
What nobody seems to have noticed is that the primary reason for the pessimistic forecast is the lousy economy, particularly the high unemployment and depressed wages. Social Security is of course financed by payroll taxes. There’s no better way to put the system into the red than to have a recession and to have 93 percent of the gains to go to the top one percent (whose payroll taxes are capped).
Larry Summers has been unnaturally silent on President Obama’s surprise decision to pass him over for the World Bank presidency in favor of Dartmouth University president and public health hero Jim Yong Kim. Well, one of Summers’ closest chums at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Lant Pritchett, has now gone public with a scorching blast at Kim. Pritchett toldForbes magazine, “It’s an embarrassment to the U.S. You cannot with a straight face say this person is the most qualified to lead the World Bank.”
More mixed signals from the Obama administration on jobs: A craven capitulation on regulation in the name of job-creation, and a surprisingly good speech by a top official on the importance of American manufacturing.
President Barack Obama will shortly sign the so-called bipartisan “JOBS” Act. The law is neither about creating jobs, nor is it bipartisan. The law exempts an estimated 80 percent of new publicly traded corporations from the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) usual disclosure requirements for up to five years after their initial public offering (IPO).
President Barack Obama startled handicappers by selecting Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim as the U.S. candidate to lead the World Bank rather than the reported front-runner Larry Summers, Obama's former National Economic Council director.
The Korean-born Kim is a medical doctor, anthropologist, and MacArthur fellow, best known for his pioneering work to fight HIV and tuberculosis in the Third World. Kim helped develop treatments for drug-resistant TB, and then successfully pushed to reduced the cost of anti-TB drugs. He is close associate of Dr. Paul Farmer, the lead founder of Partners in Health and subject of Tracy Kidder’s 2003 book, Mountains Beyond Mountains.
When the Supreme Court begins its extraordinary three days of hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, one of the oddities will be an amicus brief challenging the act’s individual mandate from 50 doctors who support national health insurance. They point out the inconvenient truth that, contrary to the administration’s representations, the government did not need to require citizens to purchase insurance from private companies in order to meet its goals of serving the health-care needs of the populace. Congress could have enacted a single-payer law.
Mercifully, the misnamed JOBS Act did not sail through the Senate yesterday as expected. The Republican-sponsored “bipartisan” act is a Wall Street wish list of exemptions from investor protections that would allow some 80 percent of new stock offerings to avoid the usual disclosures. Except for its Orwellian, contrived acronym (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) JOBS has nothing to do with jobs. More likely, it stands for Just Obfuscate with B.S.
The bill would even undo the Sarbanes-Oxley rules, enacted after the Enron scandal, prohibiting “stock analysts” from touting shares in order to help investment bankers get underwriting business.
Why does Larry Summers have more lives than a cat?
He was fired as president of Harvard, did not exactly serve President Obama brilliantly as economic policy czar, and now seems to be in line for the presidency of the World Bank, a post traditionally chosen by the president of the United States.
The deadline for the selection is this Friday, March 23. The appointment is supposed to be made official at the April meeting of the World Bank.
Earlier this month, the White House leaked a short list of three names, Summers plus U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry—neither of whom want the job. Brilliantly subtle signaling, that.
Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect as well as a Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe. He co-founded the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and serves on its executive committee.