The Euro is murdering the nations and economies of the EU quite literally. Since the fixed currency regime came into effect, replacing national currencies in transactions in 2002, the fixed exchange rate regime has devastated industry in the periphery states of the 19 Euro members while giving disproportionate benefit to Germany. The consequence has been a little-noted industrial contraction and lack of possibility to deal with resulting banking crises. The Euro is a monetarist disaster and the EU dissolution is now pre-programmed as just one consequence.
We are accustomed to looking at Europe’s woes in a purely financial context. This is a mistake, because it misses the real reasons why the EU will fail and not survive the next financial crisis. We normally survive financial crises, thanks to the successful actions of central banks as lenders of last resort. However, the origins and construction of both the the euro and the EU itself could ensure the next financial crisis commences in the coming months, and will exceed the capabilities of the ECB to save the system.
Can the EU still unite a continent shattered by world wars, or is it little more than a vehicle for austerity capitalism? The European Union is one of the premier trade organizations on the planet, with a collective GDP that surpasses the world’s largest national economies.
But it’s far more than a trade group. It’s also a banker, a judicial system, a watchdog, a military alliance, and — increasingly — an enforcer of economic rules among its 28 members. “Larger now than the Roman Empire of two thousand years ago,” observes British historian Perry Anderson, “more opaque than the Byzantine, the European Union continues to baffle observers and participants alike.”
Historically, low oil prices have been perceived by many as an overriding positive for the economy. This has especially been the case in the United States where most households rely on car travel as a primary means of transport. Low oil prices allow households to spend more on economic activities other than gasoline and other oil-related expenses. Historically, every time the oil price soared — such as the 1973 oil crisis, the 1991 Gulf War, and in 2008 when oil reached a historical high of $147 a barrel — public opinion always regarded these events as a serious threat to the economy.
Myths are dangerous because they rely more on cultural memory and prejudice than facts. And behind the current crisis between Greece and the European Union (EU) lies a fable that bears little relationship to why Athens and a number of other countries in the 28-member organization find themselves in deep distress.
The costs and risks of maintaining the eurozone system are already immense and rising. So is an exit possible? Intuitively, the exit from the euro should be as easy as the entrance. Joining and leaving the club should be equally simple. Leaving is just undoing what was done before. Indeed, many popular articles discuss the prospects of an exit of countries such as Greece or Germany. However, other voices have rightly argued that there are important exit problems.
It is a truism to say that democracy began with the Greeks – less so to say that it originated in popular rebellion against debt and debt-bondage. Yet, with the Greek people ensnared once more in the vice-grip of rich debt-holders, it may be useful to recall that fact. For the only hope today of reclaiming democracy in Greece (and elsewhere) resides in the prospect of a mass uprising against modern debt-bondage that extends the rule of the people into the economic sphere.
The problems of the eurozone are ultimately malinvestments. In Greece these days the struggle continues about who will ultimately foot the bill for these investments. During the early 2000s an expansionary monetary policy lowered interest rates artificially. Entrepreneurs financed investment projects that only looked profitable due to the low interest rates but were not sustained by real savings. Housing bubbles and consumption booms developed in the periphery.
With a 50 percent haircut recently given on the Greek sovereign-debt question, investors are increasingly asking what the real risk of sovereign debt is. It would appear that investors underpriced the risk inherent in sovereign debt, especially that of Europe's periphery. One might even go so far as to say that investors made foolish choices in the past and are now getting their just deserts.
When Greece exchanged its drachma for the euro in 2000, most voters were all for joining the Eurozone. The hope was that it would ensure stability, and that this would promote rising wages and living standards. Few saw that the stumbling point was tax policy. Greece was excluded from the eurozone the previous year as a result of failing to meet the 1992 Maastricht criteria for EU membership, limiting budget deficits to 3 percent of GDP, and government debt to 60 percent.