“Quantitative Easing” in the Eurozone could well delay needed structural reforms and end up being the catalyst to the downfall of the euro, but that doesn’t have to happen.
The facts are straightforward. The European Central Bank’s announced policy of bonds repurchase is expected to result in more than €1 trillion of increased liquidity. In a marked reaction to that change in monetary policy, stock markets soared and the Euro plunged. Compounding the controversy was that Syriza, the left-wing party that at one point advocated that Greece leave the Eurozone, won a majority election shortly after QE was announced
Germany took an anti-QE position and a compromise between German officials and the ECB after the scale of the QE was announced turned out to be a significant behind-the-scenes confrontation. The German media lambasted the ECB decision and some analysts said it would lead to a crisis. On the other side of the spectrum, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate, argued that it was the right decision but came too late.
As quoted by the Financial Times, the German minister balanced moral hazard against the view that QE is an implicit bail-out when he said, “Some people could misunderstand [now] that they have not to do [the structural reforms] that they have to do, because to implement structural reforms is always a difficult political task.”
That’s the main question regarding the Eurozone future: Given the asymmetry between European economies, the Eurozone eventually will crumble without convergence, and convergence is anything but guaranteed without major reforms. QE makes those reforms less likely.
Professor Alberto Bagnai, a specialist in economic asymmetries who has become a cult figure in Italy of the movement for the breaking up the Euro, has made a powerful argument in favor of the split. Given all the asymmetries in the national economies and the fact that most countries are not going to reform their economies to improve the likelihood of further convergence, the short-term management of macroeconomic variables — that is, QE — is not going to prevent further instability and that makes the break-up inevitable. Bagnai does not advocate reforms because, he says, the political system will not allow it. It is better to cut European countries’ losses now while they can still be cut.
The recent bailout extension to Greece shows that the Euro can survive in the short-run even with Syriza winning in Greece; the issue is what to do about the prospects for the long-term survival and expansion of the Eurozone. The forced austerity in Greece merely punished the middle-class through deeps cuts in public employee wages and state pensions and botched tax hikes. No major economic reform has been enacted and it seems it is not going to happen, at least in the foreseeable future. Austerity for its own sake has failed, and some of the German ministers are wrong in their continued fight to enact austerity throughout Europe.
In the long-term, QE will be little more than a band-aid that is used to stop a major hemorrhage. Countries in Europe will need to do more — a reform plan both for the survival of the euro and to guarantee convergence (or less asymmetry).
Reforms should be forward-looking and will be costly in the short-term, but will prepare Europe for increased convergence. They should focus on micro rather than broad austerity measures.
Otherwise, Alberto Bagnai may be right.