Thursday, August 4, 2011

Does Europe have a Plan G? Plans A through F haven't seemed to work so well.

It looks like Europe's latest plan (the sixth by some counts) to calm the markets and solve the Euro crisis hasn't worked out so well.  As I mentioned in this post, there was certainly plenty of reason to be skeptical but who knew it would blow up this quickly?  Things are so bad that the Italian market is literally broken right now, after going down over 3% today and 30% since February.  Also, Spain is canceling a bond auction for later this month (Italy has done so previously as well).  The President of the EU (who knew they had such a thing?) has even said, in typical European bureaucratic understatement, that the recent moves "are not having their intended effect on the markets." 

Unfortunately for the Europeans, there are no easy fixes.  They seem to only have two possible solutions (at least solutions that are not just bandaids):

  1. Create a true United States of Europe with both fiscal and monetary union.  Yeah that is a big step but all the smaller steps don't really sound workable at all.  Some have suggested just having EU debt, instead of Greek or Spanish debt denominated in Euros.  The problem with that is that northern European countries will become directly liable for the spending of their southern counterparts.  Do you really think the Germans will be willing to guarantee Greek and Spanish debt without having a direct say in how much they are spending?  The answer is nein.  On the flip side though, I'm not sure Italians, Spaniards and Greeks really want to be told by the Germans what to do even if they are bailed out, so even the fiscal union idea might just be unworkable (that would actually be my guess).  
  2. The Euro goes the way of the dodo. I think you would actually find quite a bit of popular support for this across Europe.  The Germans are sick of worrying about when Greeks retire and Greeks are sick of Germans telling them they should work more.  If everyone just has their own currency, everyone can mind their own business more and I think people will be happier.  The big sticking point with this strategy will be the transition.  When the Lira and Drachma come back, they will likely be massively devalued, causing hardship due to inflation and also bank failures as people who thought they might be sitting on $100 billion in Italian bonds might end up with only $50 billion in Italian bonds.  Bank failures would pop up pretty quickly making things even worse.  However, as we have seen with Iceland, the hardships do end and right now Iceland seems to be doing okay after a horrible couple of years.  Another issue with this option is that there doesn't seem to be a mechanism for any of this to happen. Though given continental Europe's historical willingness to bend the rules when they have stood in the way, my guess is there is a way around that.
The way Europe works though, I think they might cycle through Plan G through Q or maybe even V before getting to the more obvious solutions.


  1. I would official like to be the first to thank the Tea Party and Conservative Republicans for standing their ground on the debt debate, European Markets are now showing their appreciation. Self-fulfilling prophecies are easy when you are the ones doing the fulfilling. You say there will be a double dip then go ahead and do everything you can to make sure it happens. Nice job.

  2. What is happening in European markets is the exact reason why we had to stand our ground in the debt debates. If what happens to Italy and Spain happens to us, it will be the equivalent to us not raising the debt ceiling, economic chaos.