Podcast

Alasdair Macleod: Why the Europe Situation is Certain to Get Worse

It's bound to work until, mathematically, it can't
Friday, May 4, 2012, 7:52 PM

Alasdair Macleod, publisher of Financeandeconomics.org, sees little room for a happy ending to the worsening European credit crisis.

In this interview, he builds on his excellent synopsis from earlier in the week that detailed how the crisis originated, essentially embedding a fundamental structural shortcoming into the entire Eurozone construct starting back in 1997. This flawed monetary model was exploited for temporal gain, and it worked very well, as long as the pie was expanding and nobody was looking too carefully at the mounting imbalances created as it chugged along beautifully. Everybody was getting rich on their Mediterranean villas going up in price almost daily.

This whole thing was bound to work until, mathematically, it couldn’t work.

The process of growing sovereign debt at a much higher rate than national income, year over year over year, was bound to encounter a mathematical limit at some point. That time has arrived.

How did we go wrong? How should we repair this? These are good questions that the European leaders are *not* asking at this stage. Instead, they're choosing to do all they can to perpetuate the status quo  focusing on keeping things together just through the next quarter, through the next election cycle. And it's clear that their best efforts are meeting with less and less as the situation worsens. 

In this interview, Alasdair provides a very detailed update on where things stand in Europe and what to expect next. Most notably, he paints a picture of a lot of very well-meaning, very anxious people who  tragically  are diligently applying the wrong solutions to the incorrect diagnosis.

There is one big element of this which nobody had addressed because they don’t understand it. If you’re an Austrian economist, you will understand it. If you not, you won’t. And because governments are populated by economists who are not Austrian, then they don’t understand it and they won’t understand it.

That is this: If you try and measure an economy by GDP, all you are measuring at the end of the day is the amount of money in the economy. It is not a measure of economic progress. This is a very, very important point. And, the reason it is relevant is that so long as you say we need GDP to not fall – which is roughly what we’re talking about, as far as the problem that the officials see; they don’t want the economy to fall because it threatens taxes and all the rest of it if they’re measuring it by GDP, then they are using the wrong metric to come up with any solution. 

Now, we’re in the real world, and we’re trying to seek a solution to the problem. You don’t do that by concentrating on an accounting identity. This is the point that nobody in the system seems to understand. So far as I am aware, nobody is yet discussing it, but this is why I think virtually anything they do is almost certain to fail.

If we take a step back, the one thing that is wrong with the European Union and most of the other advanced nations, by the way is the size of government. There is a myth that government can intervene and improve things. It can’t.

As you rightly point out, one side that isn’t looked at is that government spends money on subsiding industry, paying out welfare, and so on and so forth but that money’s got to come from somewhere. Is it being taking away from the productive economy and being injected into something less productive or not productive at all? They’re destroying savings and therefore the ability of an economy to actually progress itself.

At the accounting identity level, governments can and actually do push up GDP, because GDP incorporates government spending at cost in the provision of services and all the rest of it. That is part of GDP. So, if government increases it’s spending, GDP goes up. You rightly say, it excludes the other side, so where does the money actually come from?

So, we actually do have a huge problem in understanding what the problem is and therefore how to resolve it. I think that the consequence of that is that the crisis is likely to drag out a lot longer than it would otherwise because they are bound to resist the obvious, and that is to cut government spending. You really need to slash it the whole way across the board. So they will resist that, because the economists will tell them that if you cut spending across the board, then you’re going to cut GDP, which means that your tax take is going to go down and you’re just going to make the problem worse. That unless you print money to offset it, you’re going to create a huge great deflation.

But actually, what they need to do is to cut the government spending and remove the distortions from the economy so that the economy can actually recover itself. Now, you mentioned Iceland earlier. I think you know that what the currency did is a slightly separate thing from what happened in Iceland itself. The government hadn’t resorted to do anything. It couldn’t interfere. It stood back and everybody understood they had a problem, a huge great problem. They knew they couldn't expect the government to solve the situation and that they had to look after themselves..

They’ve done that, and the result is, the economy has turned around. That is what we need to happen in Europe. But they are going to resist that process 'til the politicians' dying days, and that is really the problem. They are now getting in the way of the solution.

Click the play button below to listen to Part I of Chris' interview with Alasdair Macleod (38m:48s):

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To listen to Part 2 - Click Here.



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4 Comments

Grover's picture
Grover
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 507
Reducing Government Expenditures

Alisdair,

Thanks for taking the time to speak with Chris. I found the discussion to be riveting.

I agree that government can do nothing without taking first. Even if they just print the currency, they take a little value from every dollar in existence. They also solve every short term problem with a bureaucracy that entails long term costs.

Are all government expenditures equal? Is spending money on a transportation project as worthwhile as providing a welfare check? If the government is to be reduced, should it be across the board, or should entire cabinet level departments be eliminated? Which functions are absolutely necessary and which ones (if any) provide a positive return on tax dollars?

I hope you can provide some insight here. Thanks,

Grover

mobius's picture
mobius
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: May 18 2009
Posts: 152
Entitlement & smashed illusions

As a Canadian living in Holland for the past 12 years, I have witnessed the changes or rather the effects of an inflated credit bubble.  Upon arriving in 1998, I was impressed upon how most city and towns have pedestrian only shopping districts.  As increasing value in homes led to the positive equity being, at the urging of many banks, turned in consumptive credit, more and bigger cars were purchased and "suburbs" housing developments began springing up, along with shopping centers and other amenities that are beyond biking distance.  

Around us, and we live in a low to high middle class neighborhood, folks would take 3 vacations a year.

From government existing subsidies (for example mortgage interest in Holland is tax-deductable) were benefiting those who needed it the least.  To be sure, high income earners would be receiving subsidies for child- and healthcare.

This system is sick from the ground up.  There is a culture of entitlement that exists.  A couple of years ago, it was not uncommon to hear in opinion surveys that the Dutch felt, as a net payer into the EU (that is that the Netherlands pays more to the EU than it receives back in EU subsidies), the population believes that EU "growth" should not come at the expense of Dutch welvaart (prosperity, but in the monetary context of more is better).

Now we are in a downward spiral with housing values decreasing and austerity measures are being brokered.  Geert Wilders, the leader of the nationalistic anti-EU party the PVV, is drumming up the general discontent to give his platform an undercarriage built on disappointment and fear amongst the less educated echelons of society. 

And this in an economically productive European country. 

So the question for the future of Europe is:  with the political infrastructure aiming to sustain an unsustainable status quo, what does it mean when "protest vote" parties are voted into power.  Today, France and Greece are going to election booths, and Holland will be probably in September of this year. 

I am sincerely afraid that history is repeating itself.

Farmer Brown's picture
Farmer Brown
Status: Martenson Brigade Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 23 2008
Posts: 1500
Kudos

What a fantastic interview!  I just listened to this last night as I am a bit late on my CM.com reading and listening.  Congrats Chris, and thanks Alasdair for putting it together.

FB

guardia's picture
guardia
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 26 2009
Posts: 592
Re: Entitlement & smashed illusions

mobius wrote:

I am sincerely afraid that history is repeating itself.

Not exactly, I can assure you Japan will not go to war this time ;)

Thanks for your perspective on Holland!

As Canadians, at least we still have Canada! :) Oh wait a minute

Montreal mayor livid over Metro smoke bomb attacks

Samuel

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