Monday, November 7, 2011

Gavyn Davies on the Euromess

Seeing Berlusconi finally on the verge of political oblivion produces mixed feelings, because in fact he has not been defeated by his own mistakes or political weaknesses. Instead, like the fall of Papandreou and Zapatero, it is a result of the fundamentally unsustainable nature of monetary union.

As Gavyn Davies points out in the FT, the German current account surplus more or less exactly corresponds to the current account deficit of Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal. The stark implication of this is that

Viewed in this light, it is clear that there needs to be a capital account transfer each year amounting to about 5 per cent of German GDP from the core to the periphery. Without that, the euro will break up.

I wonder how many Germans have understood this. In any case, as Davies points out, there is not way this can happen under current arrangements (austerity, deflation and limited ECB intervention). And so the end game continues until the Southerners have had enough and opt for the Argentine route.

Berlusconi, Papandreou and the various corrupt networks they represented should not be exonerated, but ultimately the collapse of this phase of monetary union is not actually their fault. Ireland, with a very difficult social structure, economic regulation and political system (although corrupt enough in its own way) is in a similar mess. More enlightened politicians would probably not have averted disaster. The proof of this is that Spain, the star pupil of economic reform in Southern Europe, is barely better placed than Italy and Greece.

The sad thing is that Northern Europeans may happily blame corruption for the South's plight, but Southern citizens are not in the mood to listen to the sermon. Ironically, the humiliation of the bailout arrangements could end up stirring national pride and generating an alternative (and equally implausible) narrative: blame the Germans.