Paul Krugman on the problems of common currency

The pain in Spain…

…isn’t hard to explain. Spain was basically Florida, with a housing bubble inflated by both resident and holiday purchases, and now the bubble has burst.

But Spain is in worse shape than Florida, for two reasons — reasons familiar to anyone who was involved in the great debate about whether the euro was a good idea.

First, Europe doesn’t have a central government; Spain, unlike Florida, can’t draw on Social Security and Medicare checks from Washington. So the burden of recession falls entirely on the local budget — hence the country’s declining credit rating.

Second, the United States has a more or less geographically integrated labor market: workers move from distressed regions to those with better prospects. (The housing bust has, however, reduced mobility because people can’t sell their houses.) Europe does not: yes, there’s a fair bit of mobility both among the elite and among low-wage workers at the bottom, but nothing like the US level.

So what can Spain do? It needs to become more competitive — but it can’t have a devaluation, because it’s a euro country. So the only alternative is wage cuts, which are desperately hard to achieve (and create big problems for debtors.

Contrary to what everyone seemed to be saying even a few weeks ago, being a member of the eurozone doesn’t immunize countries against crisis. In Spain’s case (and Italy’s, and Ireland’s, and Greece’s) the euro may well be making things worse.

And Britain’s plunging pound, unpopular though it is, may turn out to have been a very good thing.

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