Sunday, April 29, 2012

Growth not austerity is best remedy for Europe

by Lawrence Summers

Financial Times

April 29, 2012

Once again Europe’s efforts to contain its crisis have fallen short. It was perhaps reasonable to hope that the European Central Bank’s longer-term refinancing operation to provide nearly $1tn in cheap three-year funding to European banks would halt the crisis for a while if not resolve it. It is now clear it has been little more than a palliative. Weak banks, especially in Spain, have bought more of the debt of their weak sovereigns while foreigners have sold down their holdings. Markets see banks grow ever more nervous. Again, both Europe and the global economy approach the brink.

In any policy sphere a great debate always follows signs of failure. The architects of the current policy and their allies argue that the problem lies in insufficient determination to maintain the existing strategy. Others argue for a change in course, a view that seems to be taking hold among European electorates – and rightly so. There is a good chance that much of what is being urged is likely to be not just ineffective but counterproductive in terms of maintaining the monetary union, restoring normal financial conditions and government access to markets, and re-establishing growth.

The premise of European policy making is that countries are overindebted and so unable to access markets on reasonable terms and that the high interest rates associated with excessive debt hurt the financial system and inhibit growth. So, the strategy is one of providing financing while insisting on austerity. The hope is that countries can rein in their excessive spending enough to restore credibility, bring down interest rates and restart economic growth. Models include successful International Monetary Fund programmes in emerging markets and Germany’s successful adjustment after the expense of reintegrating the east.


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