The Future of the Currency Union
This note attempts a concise yet comprehensive overview of the crisis still facing the eurozone, in the areas of competitiveness, fiscal policy, and banking. The euro's founding documents enshrined such principles as fiscal constraints, the "no bailout clause," and assignment to the ECB of the goal of low inflation to the exclusion of monetizing national debts. Those principles have been permanently compromised. On the one hand, German taxpayers cannot be expected to agree to bailouts of profligate euro members without end. On the other hand, if they were to insist on those founding principles, the euro would not survive. It is especially important to recognize that the (predictable) impact of fiscal austerity has been to reduce output in the periphery countries, not raise it, and thereby to raise debt/GDP ratios, not lower them. The leaders have finally taken some steps in the right direction over the last year: movement toward a banking union; more adjustment time for Greece, Portugal and Spain; and ECB bond purchases. But for the countries that are to remain in the euro, much adjustment still lies ahead: more debt-reduction (painful for the creditor North) and more internal devaluation (even more painful for the uncompetitive South). As to a long-run fiscal regime that addresses the now-exacerbated problem of moral hazard, the Fiscal Compact is not enough in itself. Two innovations favored by the author are the red-bonds/blue-bonds proposal and the delegation of forecasting to independent fiscal agencies.
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