Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Death Of Need

... because the fiscal troubles in Europe are really much bigger than they seem. The underlying philosophy that has governed the Western world for the last 40 years, need trumps ability to pay, is in its death throes.

Niall Ferguson recounts the EUs troubles for the 403rd time.
Equally culpable are the banks of the core. German banks, for example, have close to €500 billion of exposure to the PIGS. The dirty little secret of euro-zone finance is that if one of the periphery countries were to default, German banks—in particular the state-owned Landesbanken—would be among the biggest losers. And that, of course, is why it makes sense for the core to bail out the periphery: in truth, they are all in this banking crisis together.
Ignore the locations and the amounts for a moment and just consider the foundational facts. Banks loaned money to groups who had no ability to pay it back. They did it for decades. In part, the group borrowing and spending did so, not to create industries and future wealth, but because their citizens needed the money. The financial spasms in Greece, Ireland and Portugal are the death throes of need.

The Germans, who bankrolled this generosity, have had enough.
It is the political difficulty of selling this proposition to German voters that is set to derail the EU train. A euro-barometer poll last year revealed that only 34 percent of Germans thought the euro had mitigated the effects of the financial crisis. Germans are overwhelmingly for fiscal austerity—88 percent favor a policy of deficit reduction, much higher than for the EU as a whole. That is why the German government keeps insisting that the recipients of bailout money impose painful austerity measures on themselves.

The mood of the German voter can be summed up as follows: No More Herr Nice Guy. So the tax-dodging Greeks, the feckless Irish, and the bone-idle Portuguese expect the thrifty German worker to write them yet another check? For five decades after World War II, a penitent Germany paid up. The Federal Republic was the single biggest net contributor to the process of European integration. But the era of war guilt is now over—witness the humiliating electoral defeat inflicted on Germany’s governing parties in Baden-W├╝rttemberg at the end of last month. No matter how tough Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to the hard-pressed Greeks, to her own people she seems way too soft.
Traditional standards of lending and spending are on their way back and no amount of crying about who needs what is going to stop it. The Era of Need is over.

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