What has happened, it turns out, is that by going on the euro, Spain and Italy in effect reduced themselves to the status of third-world countries that have to borrow in someone else’s currency, with all the loss of flexibility that implies. In particular, since euro-area countries can’t print money even in an emergency, they’re subject to funding disruptions in a way that nations that kept their own currencies aren’t — and the result is what you see right now. America, which borrows in dollars, doesn’t have that problem.
The other thing you need to know is that in the face of the current crisis, austerity has been a failure everywhere it has been tried: no country with significant debts has managed to slash its way back into the good graces of the financial markets. For example, Ireland is the good boy of Europe, having responded to its debt problems with savage austerity that has driven its unemployment rate to 14 percent. Yet the interest rate on Irish bonds is still above 8 percent — worse than Italy.
The moral of the story, then, is to beware of ideologues who are trying to hijack the European crisis on behalf of their agendas. If we listen to those ideologues, all we’ll end up doing is making our own problems — which are different from Europe’s, but arguably just as severe — even worse.
Greece and Ireland are being destroyed. Portugal and Spain are in limbo, and the crisis shifts to Italy – truly too big to fail – which is being put into an IMF-dictated receivership as I write. Meanwhile France struggles to delay the (inevitable) downgrade of its AAA rating by cutting every social and investment program.
If there were an easy exit from the Euro, Greece would be gone already. But Greece is not Argentina with soybeans and oil for the Chinese market, and legally exit from the Euro means leaving the European Union. It’s a choice only Germany can make. For the others, the choice is between cancer and heart attack, barring a transformation in Northern Europe that not even Socialist victories in the next round of French and German elections would bring.
So the cauldrons bubble. Debtor Europe is sliding toward social breakdown, financial panic and ultimately to emigration, once again, as the way out, for some. Yet – and here is another difference with the United States – people there have not entirely forgotten how to fight back. Marches, demonstrations, strikes and general strikes are on the rise. We are at the point where political structures offer no hope, and the baton stands to pass, quite soon, to the hand of resistance. It may not be capable of much – but we shall see.