With all the talk about debt crises last weeek, it is easy to forget that there is a real economic crisis afflicting Europe as well. The 4th quarter GDP numbers were disappointing, and the fact that Eurozone industrial output fell 1.7% in December is alarming. Unemployment is still rising, and the real Eurozone economy is not out of the woods yet. A primary focus of economic policy still needs to be the avoidance of a double dip.
The fact that little Ireland is having to cut expenditure and raise taxes at a time like this will further worsen our own economic problems, but is of no broader consequence. How many Irish people have even noticed what is happening in Latvia? The same could be said of Greece. But if the entire periphery found itself having to fight market panic by cutting in an excessive fashion, simultaneously, that could be very dangerous — especially if Spain, or, God forbid, Italy, became involved as well.
Martin Wolf is very good on this, while those of you of a more temperamental disposition may enjoy Simon Johnson’s latest piece, with Peter Boone. The core Eurozone countries don’t just have to ward off self-fulfilling market panics focussed on the PIIGS, but continue to support aggregate demand in the Eurozone. I understand concerns about government debt, but people focussed on that problem should remember three things. First, deficits will continue to rise if the real economy worsens, and a lack of aggregate demand is still a problem for the real economy. Second, the more the ECB does to loosen monetary policy, the less is the burden which fiscal policy has to shoulder. And third, if we experience another year like 2008-2009 any time soon, the probability of a wave of defaults will rise sharply.