Questa crisi è una crisi di bilancia dei pagamenti – FT.com

In un articolo – fondamentale, secondo me, per capire quello che sta succedendo – Martin Wolf del Financial Times argomenta che la crisi dell’eurozona è una crisi di bilancia dei pagamenti.

Questa tesi era già stata sostenuta – anche se all’epoca era passata pressoché inosservata – dal Rapporto annuale presentato dall’Istat il 26 maggio 2010:

Un terzo elemento, che contribuisce a spiegare la diffusione globale dell’impatto sull’economia reale e la caduta eccezionalmente veloce nelle esportazioni mondiali, risiede nell’entità senza precedenti raggiunta dagli scambi internazionali e dai contestuali squilibri nel conto corrente di bilancia dei pagamenti su scala mondiale (Figura 1.7). Negli anni precedenti la crisi si era determinata una crescita degli squilibri nel conto corrente di bilancia dei pagamenti, associata alla crescita del ruolo degli scambi internazionali (Figura 1.7). Gli avanzi di Cina, Giappone ed esportatori di petrolio, dall’inizio del decennio al 2008, sono passati approssimativamente dallo 0,5 al 2,0 per cento del Pil mondiale, mentre la gran parte dei disavanzi corrispondenti hanno riguardato le economie avanzate e, in particolare, gli Stati Uniti. Anche all’interno dell’area dell’euro (Uem) si è prodotta una polarizzazione crescente, ai cui estremi troviamo la Germania, che nel 2008 ha raggiunto un avanzo di quasi 170 miliardi di euro (circa 250 miliardi di dollari), e all’altro Spagna, Francia, Italia, Portogallo e Grecia, che insieme hanno totalizzato un disavanzo di oltre 255 miliardi di euro (circa 380 miliardi di dollari). [p. 7; il corsivo è mio]

Merkozy failed to save the eurozone – FT.com

The German faith is that fiscal malfeasance is the origin of the crisis. It has good reason to believe this. If it accepted the truth, it would have to admit that it played a large part in the unhappy outcome.

Take a look at the average fiscal deficits of 12 significant (or at least revealing) eurozone members from 1999 to 2007, inclusive. Every country, except Greece, fell below the famous 3 per cent of gross domestic product limit. Focusing on this criterion would have missed all today’s crisis-hit members, except Greece. Moreover, the four worst exemplars, after Greece, were Italy and then France, Germany and Austria. Meanwhile, Ireland, Estonia, Spain and Belgium had good performances over these years. After the crisis, the picture changed, with huge (and unexpected) deteriorations in the fiscal positions of Ireland, Portugal and Spain (though not Italy). In all, however, fiscal deficits were useless as indicators of looming crises (see charts).

Now consider public debt. Relying on that criterion would have picked up Greece, Italy, Belgium and Portugal. But Estonia, Ireland and Spain had vastly better public debt positions than Germany. Indeed, on the basis of its deficit and debt performance, pre-crisis Germany even looked vulnerable. Again, after the crisis, the picture transformed swiftly. Ireland’s story is amazing: in just five years it will suffer a 93 percentage point jump in the ratio of its net public debt to GDP.

Now consider average current account deficits over 1999-2007. On this measure, the most vulnerable countries were Estonia, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Ireland and Italy. So we have a useful indicator, at last. This, then, is a balance of payments crisis. In 2008, private financing of external imbalances suffered “sudden stops”: private credit was cut off. Ever since, official sources have been engaged as financiers. The European System of Central Banks has played a huge role as lender of last resort to the banks, as Hans-Werner Sinn of Munich’s Ifo Institute argues.

If the most powerful country in the eurozone refuses to recognise the nature of the crisis, the eurozone has no chance of either remedying it or preventing a recurrence. Yes, the ECB might paper over the cracks. In the short run, such intervention is even indispensable, since time is needed for external adjustments. Ultimately, however, external adjustment is crucial. That is far more important than fiscal austerity.

In the absence of external adjustment, the fiscal cuts imposed on fragile members will just cause prolonged and deep recessions. Once the role of external adjustment is recognised, the core issue becomes not fiscal austerity but needed shifts in competitiveness. If one rules out exits, this requires a buoyant eurozone economy, higher inflation and vigorous credit expansion in surplus countries. All of this now seems inconceivable. That is why markets are right to be so cautious.

The failure to recognise that a currency union is vulnerable to balance of payments crises, in the absence of fiscal and financial integration, makes a recurrence almost certain. Worse, focusing on fiscal austerity guarantees that the response to crises will be fiercely pro-cyclical, as we see so clearly.

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