09 August 2013

Say It Again, Sam

I tweeted, early this morning, a piece by Samuel Brittan in today's FT. I quoted:
No so-called banking union will suffice while these imbalances remain
 Which chimes with my own scepticism that banking union is neither necessary nor sufficient to deal with the Eurozone's problems. Now I am fully awake I have second thoughts. Did I fall into a rhetorical trap? Here is what he meant by "these imbalances":
Since the euro was inaugurated in 1999, German unit labour costs have risen by less than a cumulative 13 per cent. During this time, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese labour costs have risen by 20 to 30 per cent, and Italian ones by even more.
Of course, banking union is not meant to deal with the problem of competitiveness diverging between Eurozone countries. You see the trap. It reminds me of a recent article by Ken Rogoff where he argued that Keynesian stimulus to demand would not work in the Eurozone; what was needed was to fix the banks. So fixing the banks will not resolve the competitiveness problem and boosting demand will not fix the banks and, I suppose, sorting competitiveness will not boost demand.

There are in fact three problems in the Eurozone:
  • a financial crisis, in which many banks' solvency is questionable;
  • a recession caused by a lack of demand; and
  • imbalances in competitiveness (by which I mean misaligned real exchange rates).
A solution for one is not the solution to all. Banking union is intended to deal with the financial crisis, not the competitiveness crisis, and boosting demand is meant to deal with the recession. Where Sir Samuel and Mr Rogoff are correct is that solving only one problem is not sufficient as the three issues interact. So we need to stimulate demand and fix the banks and somehow deal with the effects of different rates of inflation in the Eurozone.

In the heading of this blog, I say that Equals, as in equations, will not fear algebra. I actually have in mind an equation to explain each of the problems. When I find the time I will blog on each.

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