Saturday, July 7, 2012

Euro Zone Nations Wrestle With a 'Trilemma'

by Stephen Castle

New York Times

July 6, 2012

So, let’s say you have mastered the euro zone concept of “financial contagion.” Maybe you even know a thing or two about the euro “doom loop,” in which sickly banks and indebted governments threaten to drag each other down a death spiral.

Time now to learn a new buzzword, one that captures the anxieties of those seeking long-term stability for the euro currency union: “trilemma.”

The term, coined a dozen years ago by a Harvard University economist writing about the global economy, has come to encapsulate the awkward political options confronting the 17 euro zone countries.

To make the currency union work for the long haul, euro countries’ heads of state have generally concluded that they must more fully integrate their economies. But within their own countries, the political leaders have only shallow support for that idea, if not outright resistance, from voters.

According to the trilemma theory, drawn in part from studies of the economic crises of 1930s and 1940s, it is possible to have two of three things: deep economic integration, democratic politics and autonomous nation-states.

But under the theory, it is not possible to have all three.

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