Münchau: We are fighting the wrong crisis

Wolfgang Münchau wrote a piece that was carried online today at Der Spiegel. I haven’t seen an English language version so I thought I would say a few words about the piece I saw in German. Münchau says that Standard and Poors was right – not necessarily about the ratings downgrades, but rather that Europe was fixated on the wrong problem, budget deficits. in his view – and mine- this is only going to make things worse. Austerity has already led to a worsening outlook for Europe with even Germany now expecting 0.7% growth for all of 2012.

In Münchau’s view, the reason for the downgrades was that Europe is fighting the wrong battle. S&P even said in their message on the downgrades that an austerity-centered approach would make matters worse. Wolfgang noticed that German Chancellor Merkel and her Finance Minister Schäuble responded to this message by exhorting Europe to push through their austerity packages more quickly. Clearly they don’t get it.

Wolfgang goes on to say that the problem is not in the public sector but in the private sector, where high debt, deleveraging and then recession caused a gaping hole to open up in the public sectors’ balance sheets. Moreover, in what Münchau calls the single currency "strait jacket", the economies of Euroland have diverged rather than converged and that has meant current account imbalances and private debt accumulation in the periphery.

To me this situation looks pretty hopeless frankly. Policy makers in Europe just don’t get it. The best we are going to get is austerity and partial monetisation by the ECB until the union breaks or sovereign debtors default and banks are recapped. The question is why are they leading us down the abyss. Wolfgang says it’s because the government deficit story is an easier narrative to tell and simpler to attack within the existing institutional limitations of Euroland. That makes some sense politically, but it tells me that this crisis will continue to get worse.

Source: Wir bekämpfen die falsche Krise, Spiegel

P.S. – Just a reminder that I will be on BNN in just over an hour and a half talking about this. I won’t have a lot of good things to say.


Edward Harrison is the founder of Credit Writedowns and a former career diplomat, investment banker and technology executive with over twenty years of business experience. He is also a regular economic and financial commentator on BBC World News, CNBC Television, Business News Network, CBC, Fox Television and RT Television. He speaks six languages and reads another five, skills he uses to provide a more global perspective. Edward holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. Edward also writes a premium financial newsletter. Sign up here for a free trial.