May 24, 2012 |
Enoch Powell predicted in the 1970's exactly what would happen to the Euro when a individual country's interests were opposite to the greater good of the European community as a whole. It is amazing to see it playing out. I predicted that Brussels would be the best real estate market in the world when I visited in 2002.
I predicted this because of the expected build up in the European community infrastructure, and the associated NGO's and lobbyists and purveyors. I felt that this build up would be even greater than Washington DC, which has never had a down real estate market, because there would be less countervailing force for economy from the heterogeneous and distant countries that make up the E.U. as compared to the individual states in the U.S.
It would be interesting to see if that prediction turned out to be true.
Peter C. Earle comments:
It was sheerly utopian in the Marxist sense to expect that nations as diverse as found in Europe might be corralled into a single currency unit, a classic conflation of proximity with uniformity. Sic semper alvei.
Here's my hoping, but not expecting, that in Greece the forces of Gresham will be brought to bear in the selection of a new currency.
An anonymous contributor adds:
It is debatable whether having a common currency is adverse to a country's interests — if there is labor mobility and free trade. In fact, Hayek free market/hard money theory might? argue the opposite. But this is predicated on certain RULES being followed. The reality is that Greece etc. decided to break the rules and follow short-sighted expedient policies. A skeptic would argue that this was inevitable….
Uncle Milton (Friedman) was also negative/skeptical on the Euro, but (like me) was surprised that they were able to put it together in 1999. (One recalls that part of LTCM's implosion were the Eurozone convergence trades that blew up when Russian defaulted in 1998. I was on the right side of that trade for entirely wrong reasons.)
Here is a nice Cato institute essay that quotes Uncle Milton.
"Not only are member countries unable to finance government
spending through inflation, they are bound by the Stability Pact to
keep their deficit at less than 3 percent of GDP. Except under
unusual recessionary circumstances, violators would face automatic
or semi-automatic and massive fines (The Economist 1996). As long
as these rules are respected, discretionary fiscal policy on the part of
national governments will disappear. Finally, the adoption of a single
European currency would mean the end of arbitrary manipulations
of the exchange rate-"exchange rate policy," as it was called, would
vanish. In its intentions at least, the Maastricht world is one of strict
and impartial rules, a living monument to the market-liberal wisdom."
Can the euro be considered an application of the lessons we have
learned from Milton Friedman? In a sense yes, in a sense no, and in
yet another maybe. Yes, the monetary constitution embedded in the
euro construction is Friedmanian in that it aims at price stability,rules out debt monetization, and helps prevent exchange rate manipulation. No, because the European Central Bank's accountability is
very weak and because the monetary rule is not made explicit.
Nothing is said about how price stability will be achieved. Maybe,
because the monetary authorities could pursue a stable course,
avoiding both stagnation and inflation (yes, in this case), but they also
have the power to destabilize the entire European economy (obviously no, if this happens).
Also, the construct is still based on the rule of man rather than the
rule of law: if things go wrong, there is no provision for remedying the
situation. Milton would not have approved this particular facet. He was
well aware that the unrestrained power to do good is also the
unchecked possibility to do harm. The liberal wisdom, at least since
David Hume, has always assumed that, since it is possible that knaves
could end up ruling, we should draw constitutions on that assumption.
Not because that scenario is inevitable but because it is possible.
So far the ECB has behaved acceptably and it has succeeded in
resisting pressures from national governments, but we have no guarantee that this is going to be the rule in the future. As Milton often
said: "Money is too important to be entrusted to central bankers." He
may prove to be right once more.
John Floyd writes:
Those are pretty big "IFS". While Greece is the headline culprit du jour remember both France and Germany also "excused" themselves from following the rules. I don't have the exact number on hand but I believe various Maastricht or other rule violations would number in the dozens. The economics and politics speak for themselves currently as to the validity of the system working. Remember this currency was borne almost entirely of political will.
The interesting questions to me going forward are:
Does the Greek election even matter anymore?
How large are the feedback loops and knock on impact from future European developments?
Is the market too sanguine given firepower of monetary, fiscal, and bailout money is perhaps largely exhausted?
If the actions of a butterfly flapping its wings in a place like Iceland was a contributing cause to much turmoil how might Europe be viewed?
Who else has positions and exposure similar to JPM?
What about US money market fund exposure to Europe?
What about the size of Spanish private sector non-financial debt?
Why can't the Euro trade at .50?
I would also posit that well beyond current events there will be future attempts at a New Euro of some sort.
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