Tag Archives: austerity

Jurgen Habermas

Jürgen Habermas during a discussion in the Mun...

Jürgen Habermas during a discussion in the Munich School of Philosophy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The politico-social disaster that will evolve with the breakup of Europe, has been referenced by the German Thinker and Philosopher Jurgen Habermas.

Habermas is a noted intellectual in Germany, and he has added his voice to the cacophony of thinkers pleading for a new enlightenment in political thinking, to avert the dissolution of the Union. It must be a truism, that an inability of our politicians to think beyond their local and national agendas is prescriptive for dissolution. Survival of the Union can only happen when there is integration oriented leaders, and visionary statesmen or women. It is the current pity that we do not seem to have anyone of stature at this stage to lead the continent. The sapping of political will is a key ingredient of the current crisis.

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George Soros

George Soros, billionaire

George Soros, billionaire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One can almost get encouraged when wise council abounds. However wise council is ignored, and partisan political interests prevail. Germans can see no further than their forthcoming elections, and are busy claiming the high ground as the tsunami of European Disintegration approaches. To quote Yeats “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. The crisis becomes more acute by the day, and the political inertia seems to deepen.

George Soros, has put forward a succinct analysis of the situation in The Guardian. He is saying what anyone with a brain has been saying since Cyprus. He has, however, put his mind to finding good constructs for the remedy of the situation. His options are the issuance of Eurobonds, or alternatively Germany leaving the Euro. Again, this is the choice between integration and dissolution, which has been a theme here at Paddyspiigs.

If Germany did leave the Euro, who else would go with them,- Austria? Denmark? Holland? This would lead to a two speed Europe with the separation of the Northern nations from the indebted nations. A natural consequence of the current political atmosphere. This is a solution that totally ignores the political, social, and strategic aims of the European Union. It would be a sad message to send out to the world at large.

Soros’s analysis does however make a significant contribution to the current debate. Hopefully someone will listen to him!

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Simple Choices

Helmut Kohl - Chancellor of Germany (1982–1998...

Helmut Kohl – Chancellor of Germany (1982–1998) and architect of German Reunification – M.A. 1956; Ph.D. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well Oscar Lafontaine is talking the talk again. Having brought Europe together in one if the greatest social experiments in modern history, he is now set on dismantling the euro, in what would be an equally brave experiment. Hopefully he won’t turn around in 15 years time and want to reverse again. Isn’t it great to have leaders with such flitting vision!

Germany has been a big winner in Europe and will continue to be going forward, for a host of political, social and economic reasons. It is true to say that Germans have managed their affairs prudently, and have not over-borrowed, like many of their EU partners. However, Germany has not been a passive spectator in the entire fiasco that has unfolded. It was the chief designer of the Euro and it impressed on the EU/ECB a standard of rigorous inflation control, that was ill suited to the peripheral countries. German investors were happy to invest in the periphery when the gains to be made exceeded the more modest gains in their homeland. Germany was at the forefront of insisting that Ireland not “burn the bondholders” in the appalling Anglo Irish Bank scandal, – an insistence that has done more to destroy the Irish state than any other single issue in the current crisis.

Germany also gains substantially from the current low inflation, recessionary environment, which sees capital flows into German bonds, and German Funds. Germany as a major production driver of the EU gains more than most by the tariff-free environment that it can sell its goods and services into.

By contrast, if Mr Lafontaine gets his (new) way, and the Euro breaks up, the German exports are likely to be the first casualty, as the peripheral markets are lost to the stronger Deutschmark. So no one escapes. We all sink or swim together.

In some ways the breakup of the Euro, will be the answer to the problems of the periphery. The peripheral countries will be allowed to devalue, and a certain amount of relaxed inflation targets, will help deal with the debt problems. Debt will be nominalised in the new devalued currencies as there will be no Euro as standard. This alone will do what Governments failed to do when the crisis hit. The periphery will have hopefully learned the lessons of the last few years in respect to fiscal control.

The subtitle of this blog “The Living History of the Breakup of Europe”, is more of an observational title than an aspirational one.  We need to get some straight thinking if Europe is to stay together, or indeed even if its not. What we are going through is a transformational change that will either make us stronger or our continent will succumb to partisan nationalism again.

There are only two ways to proceed, and those are integration or dissolution.

If we are to proceed along the integrationist strategy then we need to deal with all the sovereign debt and deficit funding in the system. This cannot be done with pure austerity, which is an attack on the viability of nations, but rather with a program of development akin to the Marshall Plan

First page of the Marshall Plan

First page of the Marshall Plan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

, which provided vision beyond the pure economics, or even the unification program for Germany, which did likewise.

If Europe is to integrate then it should do just that. To see the issue as purely economic and fiscal will ensure the breakup of Europe. There is no leader in Germany the equivalent of Helmut Kohl, who was prepared, on both Europe and on German unification, to grasp the hand that history had dealt him, and play it with vision. The only vision we see now is accountancy, and the longer this visionary stupor persists, the more the spectre of nationalism will rise and the more inevitable will be the break up of Europe.

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Ivory Towers and Other Fantasies

As someone who’s appreciation of economics has absolutely no formal basis, I find the current debate about the Rogoff-Reinhart controversy quite surreal. Here are all these economists on both sides of the argument, discussing the relative merits of one form of analysis, versus another, and minimising or exaggerating the effects of a spreadsheet error. This issue is not an abstract philosophical discourse. The issue of how we view our society is of fundamental importance to every person in the world. Trust in our advisors is particularly relevant to Western democracies surviving. We have moved beyond the base economics, and we are talking about the shape of the Western liberal tradition. Over the last ten years or so, the rudder of Western Society has been firmly in the hands of the austerity driven economists, who, via the World Bank, via the ECB and via the Troika in Europe, have not only had the hegemony of policy, but also have esposed a monopoly on knowledge about the so called remedies for recovery. These policies have prevailed while 27 million people are unemployed in the E.U., and the wealth of middle class Europeans and Americans has dissipated.

Wile E. Coyote Business Card .. Genius .. Have...

Wile E. Coyote Business Card .. Genius .. Have Brain Will Travel .. Reverend Bill Proctor “stuck in Atlanta” (July 02, 2011) …item 4.. Comments are posted from viewers – We are not his preferred constituents (Feb 9, 2012 at 01:54 PM) … (Photo credit: marsmet523)

These policies bear no criticism. In the case of Ireland, this diminutive analysis portrays the entire Irish population as squanderers whose spendthrift ways are deserving of moral opprobrium and of the punitive austerity imposed as a remedy on the entire population. The fact that the gross excesses were limited to a minute proportion of the population, and there were many non-Irish players, including foreign banks with their snouts in the trough, does not seem to influence the Troika or the arbiters of the new order. The fact that much of the so called “Irish” debt was based in other countries, and not truly “Irish” in any real sense of the word, offers no respite. The undisputed fact that the recklessness of the banks contributed to the catastrophe, fails to provide any relief for the indentured population. Paradoxically, the only element of the population that is not suffering are the bankers, who continue their gluttony of bonuses and high salaries, while acting as the very agencies that are imposing penury on the general population.

So back to the debate over the R-R mistakes/omissions or whatever. The problem for me, an ordinary Joe, is not the semantics of the derivative implications of the subtle analysis that was presented. It was not the worry about the extrapolations of high financial equations. It was not even the arithmetic mistake that was made. It was however the sheer clumsiness, the appalling arbitrariness and the overwhelming subjective nature of the analysis that was most frightening. In my naivety, in my ignorance, I had always thought that economists dealt with the real economy. I considered that these people with their magic formulae, their alchemical spells, could conjure up, if not a view of the future, at least an understanding of the past. But oh! I was woefully wrong. The people who lay the fabric for the agenda of the rich and powerful, don’t do any of that. They decide for arbitrary reasons, to include or exclude countries from their analysis, they don’t bother to check for simple mathematical errors. They then defend themselves against criticism by saying that they were only small errors.

My problem, as a punter, is how the hell can I know what any of their prognostications mean. In fact, how can anyone know? I truly do not know anything of the mathematical formulae required to analyse economies. I know little of the nuances of Keynesian planning, though I understand enough to know that the wisdom of his thinking has been ignored in order to save the oligarchy of the financial elite.

What I do know is this – that the last five years have seen the greatest transfer of public wealth into private hands in the history if Western Society, the indenture of the whole population of the PIIGS countries, the decimation of the middle class, the dismantling of social services and the abolition of democracy in debt burdened nations. The banks have managed to privatise their profits and socialise their losses. Nations have not only lost the ability to decide on their own Government programs, but have had external programs imposed on them.

So what the nub of the problem for the man in the street is that the basis for all these austerity driven policies is not an analysis of tried and trusted methods of overcoming the debt crisis but rather the exact opposite. These programs are not only counter-sense, but they are an exact opposite of the methods that we have learned about dealing with recessions/depressions before. They are an attempt to create growth by shutting down economies. To raise taxes by strangling industry. To reduce social spending by increasing dependency. They fly in the face of the manifest truisms that you cannot create growth without a functioning economy, you can’t have an economy without cash flow, and you cannot have cash flow when you sacrifice individual effort in order to prop up failed financial institutions.

These counter-sense economic policies play straight into the neo-Weberian view of the world that economic collapse has a quasi-moral dimension to it, and that the nations who profited most by the European experiment in the terms of growth and centralisation of wealth are somehow on a higher plane than the peripheral economies that have floundered. Whatever truth there is in the supposition that the peripheal countries screwed up their economies independently of the centre (another manifest fantasy), the cure has nothing to do with the complaint. The cure is designed to tie those peripheral countries into a centralised low-inflation stangnant austerity that has nothing to do with stimulating growth. It has everything to do with economic dependency and indenture.

economics

economics (credit: Sean MacEntee)

This whole debate is not about a tweeking of an “Econ 101” freshman project. These data were presented as scientific fact, and a quick revision is not the solution. The basis of the austerity philosophy as applied to Europe is nationalist, pseudo racist, and highly questionable. It relies for intellectual legitimacy on the highly questionable views of the likes of Rogoff and Reinhart. So when you question how such philosophies have contributed to putting twenty seven million people out of work, you have to throw up when you find out that the whole basis of these concepts is faulty. Not only are the analyses subjective, arbitrary and variable, but you also find out that even the basic arithmetic is wrong. Closed prejudiced minds. Sloppy work, and sloppy thinking.

Reinhart and Rogoff – Responding to Our Critics – NYTimes.com

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Reinhart and Rogoff

“OH MY GOD, DARLING, I FORGOT TO MULTIPLY BY TWO!!!”

Economic Counsellor Kenneth Rogoff

Economic Counsellor Kenneth Rogoff (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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English: carmen reinhart giving a speech in th...

English: carmen reinhart giving a speech in the university of maryland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Strange as it seems, the answer is probably “Yes”. The recent budget crisis that nearly threw the U.S. off the fiscal cliff and the austerity measures that have ensured no less that 27 million Europeans are on the dole have been hughly influenced by the work of economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. It now appears that there was a coding error in their data thereby causing the “Excel Depression” according to Paul Krugman.

Why do we have economists? -> to give astrologers a good name!

Apologies to Paul Krugman, who seems to be one of the only economist in the world talking sense at the moment.

It is clear that fiscal deficits cannot be extended indefinitely. However, such dogmatism that the world will turn on a pin is not helping recovery, but inducing fear, panic and reducing realtime activity, as people save and save, and banks hoard and hoard. Most of us live in a real world, not just an economy, and we need to get beyond management by spreadsheets that are full of unvalidated assumptions, hidden logic, and biased prejudices, not to mention arithmetic errors!

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Crying in the Wilderness.

Irish politician Michael D. Higgins of the Lab...

Irish politician Michael D. Higgins of the Labour Party. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

“What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed”

I must say I never had a lot of time for Michael D Higgins. I did vote for him in the recent Irish Presidential Election but mainly because of the appalling panel of six opponents that he faced, ranging from a one issue Republican (not the American type, for those not in the know, but the born-again IRA type), to an ex-Eurovision singer with a right wing agenda. “Michael D” as he is affectionately known (is there a “Michael C”??)   has been hanging around politics with an Arts/Crafts – Left wing agenda for most of his life. He was the safer option. Although he is a well known orator, he had certainly never inspired me. I general found him insipid, and what the Irish would call “aeery faerie” – insubstantial and irrelevant. He went on to replace two fairly hard hitting Presidents, Mary Robinson, and Mary Mc Aleese, both of whom have made substantial contributions to world politics and society, way beyond the narrow confines of the titular position that is the Irish Presidency. Michael D. was generally believed to be a weak substitute.

However, Michael D. has proved me and others very wrong in our opinions and if he were ever to read this blog, he can take it as a public apology for my prior held unsubstantiated opinions. Last week in an address that brought the European Parliament to its feet (an achievement in itself), he set out a vision of Europe that has not been articulated for decades. A vision of a society that is not to be judged through the narrow prism of fiscal rectitude, but of a society that has a broader vision of what it is and what it wants to achieve. A foretaste of this powerful speech is quoted below

A European Union – if it is to be respected as the great project it is and can be – must draw on the intellectual heritage and the intellectual imaginings, and the existing talents and capacity of the peoples of Europe. It is a fully authentic Union if it is characterised by solidarity.

If it is not of this authentic character just now, it must be made so by changes in consciousness and commitment, and through reasserting the idealism, intellectual strength and moral courage that drove the founding fathers of the Union. European Member States are peoples, with history, with current needs, with possibilities to be shared.

If we were, as an alternative, to regard our people as dependent variables to the opinions of rating agencies, agencies unaccountable to any demos, and indeed found to be fallible on occasion, then instead of being citizens we would be reduced to the status of mere consumers; pawns in a speculative chess board of fiscal moves in a game derived from assumptions that are weak, untestable or more frequently undeclared.

If you want more please  READ THE WHOLE SPEECH

or better still watch it: –   Michael D Higgins addresses the European Parliament

Congratulations Michael D. – your latest fan!

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Pressure, Pressure – 13 out of 25 in the Bold Corner.

English: Italian cannons in Ljubljana

English: Italian cannons in Ljubljana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last couple of weeks have seen a breather from the Cyprus Crisis, but the pressure keeps building. Portugal’s constitutional Court have thrown a spanner in the works of THE AUSTERITOCRATS, by ruling against €1.5bn budgetary measures. Portugal’s finance minister has blocked all capital spending as a result. Portugal’s government may fall, leading to further instability, and the formation of another Coalition. The Irish Trade Unions have given the two fingers to more austerity, paving the way for industrial unrest, public service cutbacks and a division between the state sector demands and the ability of the taxpayer to fund it. The downward social spiral continues.

E.U. Commissioner Oli Rehn has issued a warning about Spain and Slovenia, suggesting they are not meeting their targets in the austerity drive, and their Banks are failing. The Slovenian Government, which failed to privatize the banks, after the fall of communism may well have underestimated the cost to underwrite them, and confidence is ebbing. Although the Slovenian situation is but a dot on the landscape compared to the Irish situation, the mood, statements, reassurances have a familiar tone to them. The €70 Billion deficit in a country of 2 million people is slightly better than the Irish €190 Billion for four million people.

Aside – isn’t it wonderful the way the word “Billion” just rolls off your tongue these days, when ten years ago no-one had heard of it, and a million was a lot of money!! 
 
Further aside –  France’s War Debt to the US after the Second World War was about $2.8 Billion (about €2.15 Billion) – Ireland could wage 88 world wars for the money we owe – at least we could if all our young people hadn’t emigrated already leaving a sorry bunch of old farts to take up the cause!.

Sorry – Back to the main story – The Slovenian economy is well beyond my poor brain, but I do recognize another canary when I see one! Slovenia may be the next canary in the cage. How will the troika deal with the next crisis? Will we find out whether Cyprus was indeed a special case in how Ljubljana fares?

Ireland may receive extra time to repay its loans, according to opinions around Dublin. This is a rare bit of good news for the beleaguered island. It was celebrated like we had just won the Eurovision, with smiling faces and congratulatory handshakes. The fact that the Irish taxpayers still have to carry the full responsibility of the international lending disaster that took place in this country, still seems to be conveniently ignored by the powers that be. A debt that has left every man, woman and child in the country owing €50,000 (a goodly sum for a baby, or an nanogenarian!) to bail out speculators, who must have felt all their Christmases had come at once. A second bit of good news, that was celebrated with fanfare, was the downward projection of the Government deficit projection for 2015, to €2 Billion from €3 Billion. With progress like this we should exit the crisis in the year 2202 A.D.!!

Its not only the laggards that have been admonished this week however, the EU has warned that no less than13 countries in the union, including France, the Netherlands and Belgium need to take urgent action to reform their economies. 

I’ll post something more upbeat next – Promise!

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