Europe seems trapped with a sluggish economy but a way out may be close
Getting out of a hole that you have dug for yourself can be tough. This is what Europe is struggling with as the Eurozone crisis seems to have passed only to be replaced with a slow strangling at the hands of deflation. Infighting among politicians about the best way to deal with the economic stagnation in Europe has resulted in few reasons for hope of an escape. Yet, this may change due to recent developments such as a flagging German economy and the rise of reform-minded governments in some countries. Sometimes things need to get worse before a way out is possible and the situation in Europe may have finally got bad enough for positive change to occur.
An economic escape route…
An economic recovery is typically an automatic progress but may not always be easy. Companies going bankrupt and workers losing their jobs cause considerable pain but is actually something that is good for the overall health of the economy. A cull of weaker businesses provides more space for more successful firms to grow and prosper. This process has the label of “creative destruction” in economic theory due to the idea of the old needing to give way for the new.
In this way, economic growth returns after a recession as resources such as workers move to more productive uses. The economy can grow faster as a result but a certain level of economic freedoms are needed to allow this to happen. In this way, there is a trade-off between economic growth and the potential for instability. It is not possible to have the former without the latter but any instability can be limited through controlling economic excesses (which often show up in the financial system).
Getting the balance right is not easy. Companies in finance have been given too much leeway and created havoc as a result. Yet, in other areas, businesses have been burdened with too many rules. One example is regulation which makes it difficult for firms to fire workers. This may seem like a good way of keeping people in jobs but such regulation has an adverse effect in that companies will not want to take on new workers if their employment is almost permanent.
… and the politics to make it happen
Many countries in Europe are in desperate need of policies to free up business from such regulation but implementation is often tricky. At a time of rapid change, voters often crave stability of bygone eras that are no longer viable. This does not stop populist parties making false promises to turn back time and dismissing the need for reforms. It is heartening for the outlook in Europe that some countries such as Spain have made progress with its reforms. Others such as France and Italy also have governments that are making the right noises in terms of reforms even if not actually putting new policies in place.
The lack of reforms has been preventing the recovery in Europe in other ways. Germany, who has a firm grip on the reins of power in Europe, has stubbornly refused to offer much help to struggling European countries. The reasoning behind this is that offering an easy way out would mean that these countries would not deal with the problems within their own economies. The flip side is that, once reforms begin, Germany may be more accommodating in providing support.
This opens up the possibility of a grand bargain, such as reforms as a trade for looser monetary policy and less focus on austerity. More action from the central bank seems likely as the German economy is beginning to falter and genuine fears about deflation in Europe grow. Its own weak economic growth and low inflation will highlight to the Germans that the problems are plaguing Europe as a whole rather than just individual problem countries.
Your Neighbourhood Economist penned this posting with comments from readers in mind. Europe and the euro was seen as a lost cause by one reader while others have been annoyed that this blog always had to be so pessimistic. Hopefully, this post will hopefully prove them wrong (but in a good way).