Publications on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)
Working Paper No. 886 | March 2017
This paper investigates the (lack of any lasting) impact of John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory on economic policymaking in Germany. The analysis highlights the interplay between economic history and the history of ideas in shaping policymaking in postwar (West) Germany. The paper argues that Germany learned the wrong lessons from its own history and misread the true sources of its postwar success. Monetary mythology and the Bundesbank, with its distinctive anti-inflationary bias, feature prominently in this collective odyssey. The analysis shows that the crisis of the euro today is largely the consequence of Germany’s peculiar anti-Keynesianism.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 842 | July 2015
The Euro Treasury Plan
The euro crisis remains unresolved and the euro currency union incomplete and extraordinarily vulnerable. The euro regime’s essential flaw and ultimate source of vulnerability is the decoupling of central bank and treasury institutions in the euro currency union. We propose a “Euro Treasury” scheme to properly fix the regime and resolve the euro crisis. This scheme would establish a rudimentary fiscal union that is not a transfer union. The core idea is to create a Euro Treasury as a vehicle to pool future eurozone public investment spending and to have it funded by proper eurozone treasury securities. The Euro Treasury could fulfill a number of additional purposes while operating mainly on the basis of a strict rule. The plan would also provide a much-needed fiscal boost to recovery and foster a more benign intra-area rebalancing.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Policy Note 2013/5 | May 2013
The EU and the Pillage of the Indebted CountriesThe European Union (EU) is a treaty-based organization that was set up after World War II as a means of putting an end to a favorite practice of the Europeans: sorting out their national differences by engaging in bloody warfare. The European experiment—the formation of a Common Market, which led eventually to economic and monetary union—has been linked to some remarkable outcomes: Europe has experienced its longest period of peace since the end of World War II, and war among European member-states now seems highly unlikely. Naturally, senior EU officials never miss an opportunity to remind the public of this achievement whenever the policies of the “new Rome” are questioned by a European citizenship fed up with authoritarian decision-making processes by the EU core, bank bailouts masquerading as national bailouts, austerity policies—and what amounts to the pillaging of the debtor countries by the center.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Working Paper No. 762 | April 2013
Highlighting that France and Germany held largely contradicting hopes and aspirations for Europe’s common currency, this paper analyzes how the resulting euro contradiction conditioned the ongoing euro crisis as well as current strategies to resolve it. While Germany generally prevailed in hammering out the design of the euro policy regime, the German authorities have failed to see the inconsistency in their policy endeavors: the creation of a model whose workability presupposes that others behave differently cannot be made to work by forcing everyone to behave like Germany. This fundamental misunderstanding has made Germany the main culprit in the euro crisis, but it has yet to face the full consequences of its actions. Germany had sought every protection against the much-dreaded euro “transfer union,” but its own conduct has made that very outcome inevitable. Conversely, having been disappointed in its own hopes for the euro, France is now facing the prospect of a lost generation—a prospect, shared with other debtor nations in the union, that has undermined the Franco-German alliance and may soon turn it into the ultimate euro battleground.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2012/8 | July 2012From the very start, the European Monetary Union (EMU) was set up to fail. The host of problems we are now witnessing, from the solvency crises on the periphery to the bank runs in Spain, Greece, and Italy, were built into the very structure of the EMU and its banking system. Policymakers have admittedly responded to these various emergencies with an uninspiring mix of delaying tactics and self-destructive policy blunders, but the most fundamental mistake of all occurred well before the buildup to the current crisis. What we are witnessing today are the results of a design flaw. When individual nations like Greece or Italy joined the EMU, they essentially adopted a foreign currency—the euro—but retained responsibility for their nation’s fiscal policy. This attempted separation of fiscal policy from a sovereign currency is the fatal defect that is tearing the eurozone apart.
Working Paper No. 710 | March 2012
A Historic Monetary Policy Pivot Point and Moment of (Relative) Clarity
Not since the Great Depression have monetary policy matters and institutions weighed so heavily in commercial, financial, and political arenas. Apart from the eurozone crisis and global monetary policy issues, for nearly two years all else has counted for little more than noise on a relative risk basis.
In major developed economies, a hypermature secular decline in interest rates is pancaking against a hard, roughly zero lower-rate bound (i.e., barring imposition of rather extreme policies such as a tax on cash holdings, which could conceivably drive rates deeply negative). Relentlessly mounting aggregate debt loads are rendering monetary- and fiscal policy–impaired governments and segments of society insolvent and struggling to escape liquidity quicksands and stubbornly low or negative growth and employment trends.
At the center of the current crisis is the European Monetary Union (EMU)—a monetary union lacking fiscal and political integration. Such partial integration limits policy alternatives relative to either full federal integration of member-states or no integration at all. As we have witnessed since spring 2008, this operationally constrained middle ground progressively magnifies economic divergence and political and social discord across member-states.
Given the scale and scope of the eurozone crisis, policy and actions taken (or not taken) by the European Central Bank (ECB) meaningfully impact markets large and small, and ripple with force through every major monetary policy domain. History, for the moment, has rendered the ECB the world’s most important monetary policy pivot point.
Since November 2011, the ECB has taken on an arguably activist liquidity-provider role relative to private banks (and, in some important measure, indirectly to sovereigns) while maintaining its long-held post as rhetorical promoter of staunch fiscal discipline relative to sovereignty-encased “peripheral” states lacking full monetary and fiscal integration. In December 2011, the ECB made clear its intention to inject massive liquidity when faced with crises of scale in future. Already demonstratively disposed toward easing due to conditions on their respective domestic fronts, other major central banks have mobilized since the third quarter of 2011. The collective global central banking policy posture has thus become more homogenized, synchronized, and directionally clear than at any time since early 2009.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Robert Dubois
Public Policy Brief No. 122, 2012 | February 2012President Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that the common diagnosis of a “sovereign debt crisis” ignores the crucial role of rising private debt loads and the significance of current account imbalances within the eurozone. Profligate spending in the periphery is not at the root of the problem. Moreover, pushing austerity in the periphery while ignoring the imbalances within the eurozone is a recipe for deflationary disaster.
The various rescue packages on offer for Greece will not ultimately solve the problem, say the authors, and a default is a very real possibility. If a new approach is not embraced, we are likely seeing the end of the European Monetary Union (EMU) as it currently stands. The consequences of a breakup would ripple throughout the EMU as well as the shaky US financial system, and could ultimately trigger the next global financial crisis.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 24 | February 2012
It’s a mistake to interpret the unfolding disaster in Europe as primarily a “sovereign debt crisis.” The underlying problem is not periphery profligacy, but rather the very setup of the European Monetary Union (EMU)—a setup that even now prevents a satisfactory resolution to this crisis. The central weakness of the EMU is that it separates nations from their currencies without providing them with adequate overarching fiscal or monetary policy structures—it’s like a United States without a Treasury or a fully functioning Federal Reserve. Without addressing this basic structural weakness, Euroland will continue to stumble toward the cliff—and threaten to pull a tottering US financial system over the edge with it.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 705 | February 2012
Lessons from Argentina
The literature on public employment policies such as the job guarantee (JG) and the employer of last resort (ELR) often emphasizes their macroeconomic stabilization effects. But carefully designed and implemented policies like these can also have profound social transformative effects. In particular, they can help address enduring economic problems such as poverty and gender disparity. To examine how, this paper will look at the reform of Argentina’s Plan Jefes into Plan Familias. Plan Jefes was the hallmark stabilization policy of the Argentine government after the 2001 crisis. It guaranteed a public sector job in a community project to unemployed male and female heads of households. The vast majority of beneficiaries, however, turned out to be poor women. For a number of reasons that are explored below, the program was later reformed into a cash transfer policy, known as Plan Familias, that still exists today. The paper examines this reform in order to evaluate the relative impact of such policies on some of the most vulnerable members of society; namely, poor women. An examination of the Argentine experience based on survey evidence and fieldwork reveals that poor women overwhelmingly want paid work opportunities, and that a policy such as the JG or the ELR cannot only guarantees full employment and macroeconomic stabilization, but it can also serve as an institutional vehicle that begins to transform some of the structures and norms that produce and reproduce gender disparities. These transformative features of public employment policies are elucidated by turning to the capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen and elaborated by Martha Nussbaum—an approach commonly invoked in the feminist literature. This paper examines how the access to paid employment can enhance what Sen defines as an individual’s “substantive freedom.” Any policy that fosters genuine freedom begins with an understanding of what the targeted population (in this case, poor women) wants. It then devises a strategy that guarantees that such opportunities exist and removes the obstacles to accessing these opportunities.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 704 | January 2012
A Dissenting View
It is commonplace to link neoclassical economics to 18th- or 19th-century physics and its notion of equilibrium, of a pendulum once disturbed eventually coming to rest. Likewise, an economy subjected to an exogenous shock seeks equilibrium through the stabilizing market forces unleashed by the invisible hand. The metaphor can be applied to virtually every sphere of economics: from micro markets for fish that are traded spot, to macro markets for something called labor, and on to complex financial markets in synthetic collateralized debt obligations—CDOs. Guided by invisible hands, supplies balance demands and markets clear. Armed with metaphors from physics, the economist has no problem at all extending the analysis across international borders to traded commodities, to what are euphemistically called capital flows, and on to currencies themselves. Certainly there is a price, somewhere, somehow, that will balance supply and demand. The orthodox economist is sure that if we just get the government out of the way, the market will do the dirty work. The heterodox economist? Well, she is less sure. The market might not work. It needs a bit of coaxing. Imbalances can persist. Market forces can be rather impotent. The visible hand of government can hasten the move toward balance.
Orthodox economists as well as most heterodox economists see the Global Financial Crisis as a consequence of domestic and global imbalances. The most common story blames the US Federal Reserve for excessive monetary ease that spurred borrowing, and the US fiscal and trade imbalances for a surplus of liquidity sloshing around global financial markets. Looking to the specific problems in Euroland, the imbalances are attributed to profligate Mediterraneans. The solution is to restore global balance, which requires some combination of higher exchange rates for the Chinese, reduction of US trade deficits, and Teutonic fiscal discipline in the United States, the UK, and Japan, as well as on the periphery of Europe.
This paper takes an alternative view, following the sectoral balances approach of Wynne Godley, combined with the modern money theory (MMT) approach derived from the work of Innes, Knapp, Keynes, Lerner, and Minsky. The problem is not one of financial imbalance, but rather one of an imbalance of power. There is too much power in the hands of the financial sector, money managers, the predator state, and Europe’s center. There is too much privatization and pursuit of the private purpose, and too little use of government to serve the public interest. In short, there is too much neoliberalism and too little democracy, transparency, and accountability of government.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 20 | November 2011As the crisis in Europe spreads, policymakers trot out one inadequate proposal after another, all failing to address the core problem. The possibility of dissolution, whether complete or partial, is looking less and less farfetched. Alongside political obstacles to reform, there is a widespread failure to understand the nature of this crisis. And without seeing clearly, policymakers will continue to focus on the wrong solutions.
Working Paper No. 693 | October 2011Yet another rescue plan for the European Monetary Union (EMU) is making its way through central Europe, but no one is foolish enough to believe that it will be enough. Greece’s finance minister reportedly said that his nation cannot continue to service its debt, and hinted that a 50 percent write-down is likely. That would be just the beginning, however, as other highly indebted periphery nations will follow suit. All the major European banks will be hit—and so will the $3 trillion US market for money market mutual funds, which have about half their funds invested in European banks. Add in other US bank exposure to Europe and you are up to a potential $3 trillion hit to US finance. Another global financial crisis is looking increasingly likely.
We first summarize the situation in Euroland. Our main argument will be that the problem is not due to profligate spending by some nations but rather the setup of the EMU itself. We then turn to US problems, assessing the probability of a return to financial crisis and recession. We conclude that difficult times lie ahead, with a high probability that another collapse will be triggered by events in Euroland or in the United States. We conclude with an assessment of possible ways out. It is not hard to formulate economically and technically simple policy solutions for both the United States and Euroland. The real barrier in each case is political—and, unfortunately, the situation is worsening quickly in Europe. It may be too late already.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):