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The Euro – A Monetary Strangulation Mechanism

In my previous post I claimed that the ‘Greek crisis’ essentially is not about Greece, but rather that the crisis is a symptom of a bigger problem namely the euro itself.

Furthermore, I claimed that had it not been for the euro we would not have had to have massive bailouts of countries and we would not have been in a seven years of recession in the euro zone and unemployment would have been (much) lower if we had had floating exchange rates in across Europe instead of what we could call the Monetary Strangulation Mechanism (MSM).

It is of course impossible to say how the world would have looked had we had floating exchange rates instead of the MSM. However, luckily not all countries in Europe have joined the euro and the economic performance of these countries might give us a hint about how things could have been if we had never introduced the euro.

So I have looked at the growth performance of the euro countries as well as on the European countries, which have had floating (or quasi-floating) exchange rates to compare ‘peggers’ with ‘floaters’.

My sample is the euro countries and the countries with fixed exchange rates against the euro (Bulgaria and Denmark) and countries with floating exchange rates in the EU – the UK, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania. Furthermore, I have included Switzerland as well as the EEA countriesNorway and Iceland (all with floating exchange rates). Finally I have included Greece’s neighbour Turkey, which also has a floating exchange rate.

In all 31 European countries – all very different. Some countries are political dysfunctional and struggling with corruption (for example Romania or Turkey), while others are normally seen as relatively efficient economies with well-functioning labour and product markets and strong external balance and sound public finances like Denmark, Finland and the Netherland.

Overall we can differentiate between two groups of countries – euro countries and euro peggers (the ‘red countries’) and the countries with more or less floating exchange rates (the ‘green countries’).

The graph below shows the growth performance for these two groups of European countries in the period from 2007 (the year prior to the crisis hit) to 2015.

floaters peggers RGDP20072015 A

The difference is striking – among the 21 euro countries (including the two euro peggers) nearly half (10) of the countries today have lower real GDP levels than in 2007, while all of the floaters today have higher real GDP levels than in 2007.

Even Iceland, which had a major banking collapse in 2008 and the always politically dysfunctionally and highly indebted Hungary (both with floating exchange rates) have outgrown the majority of euro countries (and euro peggers).

In fact these two countries – the two slowest growing floaters – have outgrown the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland – countries which are always seen as examples of reform-oriented countries with über prudent policies and strong external balances and healthy public finances.

If we look at a simple median of the growth rates of real GDP from 2007 until 2015 the floaters have significantly outgrown the euro countries by a factor of five (7.9% versus 1.5%). Even if we disregard the three fastest floaters (Turkey, Romania and Poland) the floaters still massively outperform the euro countries (6.5% versus 1.5%).

The crisis would have long been over had the euro not been introduced  

To me there can be no doubt – the massive growth outperformance for floaters relative to the euro countries is no coincidence. The euro has been a Monetary Strangulation Mechanism and had we not had the euro the crisis in Europe would likely long ago have been over. In fact the crisis is essentially over for most of the ‘floaters’.

We can debate why the euro has been such a growth killing machine – and I will look closer into that in coming posts – but there is no doubt that the crisis in Europe today has been caused by the euro itself rather than the mismanagement of individual economies.

PS I am not claiming the structural factors are not important and I do not claim that all of the floaters have had great monetary policies. The only thing I claim is the the main factor for the underperformance of the euro countries is the euro itself.

PPS one could argue that the German ‘D-mark’ is freely floating and all other euro countries essentially are pegged to the ‘D-mark’ and that this is the reason for Germany’s significant growth outperformance relative to most of the other euro countries.

Update: With this post I have tried to demonstrate that the euro does not allow nominal adjustments for individual euro countries and asymmetrical shocks therefore will have negative effects. I am not making an argument about the long-term growth outlook for individual euro countries and I am not arguing that the euro zone forever will be doomed to low growth. The focus is on how the euro area has coped with the 2008 shock and the the aftermath. However, some have asked how my graph would look if you go back to 2000. Tim Lee has done the work for me – and you will see it doesn’t make much of a difference to the overall results. See here.

Update II: The euro is not only a Monetary Strangulation Mechanism, but also a Fiscal Strangulation Mechanism.

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If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: daniel@specialistspeakers.com or roz@specialistspeakers.com.

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“The Euro: Monetary Unity To Political Disunity?”

The re-eruption of the euro crisis as sparked not only economic and financial concerns, but maybe even more important the crisis is now very clearly leading to serious political disunity exemplified by an article the Spanish newspaper El País in, which Chancellor Merkel (somewhat unjustly) was compared to Hitler. And it is pretty clear that Germans are unlikely to get the same level of service if they go on vacation in Spain, Greece or Cyprus this year.

The political disunity in Europe should hardly be a surprised to anybody who have read anything Milton Friedman ever wrote on monetary union and fixed exchange rate regime. His article “The Euro: Monetary Unity To Political Disunity?” from 1997 has turned out to have been particularly prolific.

Here is Friedman on why the euro just is a bad idea:

By contrast, Europe’s common market exemplifies a situation that is unfavorable to a common currency. It is composed of separate nations, whose residents speak different languages, have different customs, and have far greater loyalty and attachment to their own country than to the common market or to the idea of “Europe.” Despite being a free trade area, goods move less freely than in the United States, and so does capital.

The European Commission based in Brussels, indeed, spends a small fraction of the total spent by governments in the member countries. They, not the European Union’s bureaucracies, are the important political entities. Moreover, regulation of industrial and employment practices is more extensive than in the United States, and differs far more from country to country than from American state to American state. As a result, wages and prices in Europe are more rigid, and labor less mobile. In those circumstances, flexible exchange rates provide an extremely useful adjustment mechanism.

If one country is affected by negative shocks that call for, say, lower wages relative to other countries, that can be achieved by a change in one price, the exchange rate, rather than by requiring changes in thousands on thousands of separate wage rates, or the emigration of labor. The hardships imposed on France by its “franc fort” policy illustrate the cost of a politically inspired determination not to use the exchange rate to adjust to the impact of German unification. Britain’s economic growth after it abandoned the European Exchange Rate Mechanism a few years ago to refloat the pound illustrates the effectiveness of the exchange rate as an adjustment mechanism.

Note how Friedman rightly notes that downward rigidities in price and wages are likely to cause problems in the euro zone in the event of a negative shock to one or more of the euro countries.

These problems cannot be ignored and if they are ignored it will likely lead to political disunity – if not indeed political disintegration. As Friedman express it:

The drive for the Euro has been motivated by politics not economics. The aim has been to link Germany and France so closely as to make a future European war impossible, and to set the stage for a federal United States of Europe. I believe that adoption of the Euro would have the opposite effect. It would exacerbate political tensions by converting divergent shocks that could have been readily accommodated by exchange rate changes into divisive political issues. Political unity can pave the way for monetary unity. Monetary unity imposed under unfavorable conditions will prove a barrier to the achievement of political unity.

Friedman unfortunately once again has been proven right by events over the past couple of weeks.

Slovenia is not Cyprus, but Slovenia is the second ‘S’ in PIIGS(S)

We used to think that the trouble countries in the euro zone were what has been called the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) and then suddenly Cyprus comes along and blow up. So now everybody is looking for the ‘next Cyprus’ rather than the next Spain or Greece.

So now all eyes are turning to Slovenia as it is again and again has being mentioned as the ‘next Cyprus’. I would, however, strongly argue that Slovenia is not Cyprus. That might sound good. Unfortunately it is not Slovenia, which is the ‘outlier’ – it is Cyprus.

I think it is really simple – the countries in the euro zone which are in the biggest trouble – risk of sovereign default and potential banking crisis – are the countries that have seen the largest drop in nominal GDP since 2008. The graph below illustrates this very well. It shows the relationship between the change in NGDP from 2007 to 2012 and the change in public debt ratios (debt/NGDP) in the same period. Surprise, surprise the countries that have seen the biggest increase debt ratios happen to be the PIIGS and those are also the countries that have seen the biggest drop in NGDP during the same crisis.

DebtNGDPeurozone

But notice Cyprus. Cyprus hasn’t really seen a major drop in NGDP and the increase in the debt ratio is not alarming. Cyprus is the ‘outlier’ – despite of banking crisis and a potential sovereign debt default the economy has been holding up pretty well (so far!). Cyprus is in trouble not because of the Cypriot economy as such, but because of a few banks’ exposure to Greek sovereign debt (this is likely a result of moral hazard). That is the story Cyprus, but it is not the story of Slovenia.

It is therefore wrong to say that Slovenia is Cyprus. Unfortunately it might be worse – Slovenia is the second ‘S’ in PIIGSS.

PS For those who are unable to differentiate between Slovenia and Slovakia – you have no reason to worry about Slovakia. The country is doing remarkably well.

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