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Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Institutional Design of the Eurozone [feedly]

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Brad DeLong opposing the "establishment" view of Eurozone reforms...

The Institutional Design of the Eurozone
// Economist's View

Brad Delong (The VoxEU column is in the post below this one):

In Which I Call for Academic Scribblers and Funct Economists to Enter into Utopian Frenzy with Respect to the Institutional Design of the Eurozone: From my perspective, this piece at Vox.eu makes many too many bows to conventional-wisdom idols with not just feet but bodies and heads of clay. Thus I cannot sign on to it.

Eleven observations:

The situation is dire. The Eurozone as currently constituted has been a macroeconomic disaster.

The forecast that the authors make is that on the current policy path "economic health will eventually be restored, unemployment will decrease, and the periphery countries will regain competitiveness" is not a real forecast. I think that this is not a real forecast: if it were a real forecast, it would have a date attached, no?

Thus the framing of needed policy changes as things needed to improve "resiliency" just in case things do not "go as forecast" substantially underplays the seriousness of the problem. Fewer readers will pick up on the "things rarely go as forecast" to understand that the forecast is not a forecast.

The first and most obvious feature of the Eurozone is that its interest rates are at the zero lower bound and its economy lacks aggregate demand. A depressed economy at the zero lower bound needs fiscal expansion. If for some reason normal fiscal expansion is feared to be unwise by some holding veto points, the economy needs helicopter drops--backed up by strong commitments by central banks to raise reserve requirements to curb the velocity of outside money should it suddenly become higher rather than lower than desirable.

The bank regulatory system needs responsibility for banks' rescue to be transferred from national governments to the ESM now. Without that transfer, nation-level governments will continue to make the political calculation that letting supervisory and regulatory standards slide is the more attractive course. It may be true "this is the kind of political step that seems unlikely to be feasible in the near term". But that does not keep it from being needed now. The purpose of a document like this is to set out what is needed--not to reassure people by claiming that whatever is not politically possible now is not needed now.

Public debt is too high if and only if market interest rates now and forecast for the foreseeable future are about to undergo a rapid and massive jump upward. Right now g > r--which means that public debt is not too high but too low.

How governments should hedge against interest rate increases in a world where g > r is an interesting research question. The obvious route is simply to sell consols. Then, when the real consol rate is higher than the societal return on additional government expenditures, we can talk about what the target debt-to-GDP ratio should be and how to get there. But those who are unwilling to advocate the sale of consols as the obvious way to manage public debt risk have, as long as g > r, no standing to complain that public debts are too high--let alone to set out the proposition that public debt is too high as a self-evident truth.

A massively-underfunded ESM is not "the right institution to deal with [government debt] default". It is the wrong institution. It is worse than no institution at all, because it allows people to claim that there is a backstop when there is, in fact, no backstop.

The "structural reform" agenda is more-or-less orthogonal to the macroeconomic institution redesign agenda. To even hint that energy that would otherwise be devoted to macroeconomic institution design should be diverted to lobby for structural reform is in its essence a call to do less on macroeconomic institution redesign. And that strikes me as unhealthy.

Now I think that I do understand why the economists below--who are, by and large, among the best economists in the world in their wisdom and in their understanding of the European situation--have made the rhetorical choices that they have. They want to appeal to practical men, who believe they are exempt from any trace of utopian frenzy.

But if the Eurozone is to be a good thing for Europe rather than a millstone around the neck of the continent, I think that utopian frenzy is needed.

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