September 9, 2011
Major trouble, we learn from the Chinese, can be likened to a tunnel we have to go through until we reach the other side. It is hard to say whether the sovereign debt crisis that hit the eurozone two years ago is about to be dealt with more decisively this fall. To be sure, a few austerity packages and hundreds of billions of euros later, Greece’s public debt is as high as at the beginning of the crisis. Even more alarming, the size of Italy’s public debt has started to worry the international markets in August, and the United States has been close to defaulting on its 14,000 billion dollar debt, losing its coveted AAA credit rating.
There are a few glimmers of hope, if not as yet light at the end of the tunnel. The new IMF chief, Christine Lagarde has strongly urged western governments to soften austerity measures and to adopt pro-growth policies instead. On the other side of the Atlantic, Warren Buffett has publicly called on his fellow billionaires to accept a 50 % tax rate in order to help reduce America’s debt. In France, sixteen prominent billionaires have published a manifesto stating their agreement with the introduction of a temporarily higher tax rate for the rich – a call supported by many leading French industrialists. The Italian, Hungarian and even Romanian parliaments – believe it or not – are considering introducing a special tax payable by those with incomes of 25,000 euros or more (Hungary) or of 90,000 euros or more per annum (Italy). For now, however, the Italian government has quickly withdrawn its proposal, while the Romanian 1 percent “solidarity tax” (a rather ridiculously low rate, considering that for the past twenty years the country’s “business” elite has achieved this status by pillaging Romanian banks and enterprises and by systematically siphoning off funds from the national budget) still needs debating…
At the EU’s periphery, austerity is slowly but surely choking off growth, in both the UK and Greece. Undaunted, the British government wishes to buck the trend and reduce the 50 % top tax rate for the rich, in spite of popular discontent which has erupted beyond expectations in August. Greece has recorded a second year of negative growth, but again, any talk of imposing extra taxes on the rich is still taboo.
Economists and bankers worldwide are hotly debating the euro’s future. Scenarios on the table range from an imminent implosion (Roubini, Alan Greenspan), to a possible shrinking of the eurozone (Kenneth Rogoff, Florin Aftalion) which would leave some of the Mediterranean countries – unable to reduce their public debt – out. American historian Harold James strikes a more optimistic note, pointing out that over the past two years the exchange rate of the euro has held steady despite the turmoil around it. Ironically, the most affected currencies have been the Swiss franc, the Australian dollar and the Japanese yen.
The eurobond issue seems dead and buried after the German Constitutional Court decision handed down on September 7, and the fiscal policies’ convergence seems to be in. At this point in time it is far from clear, however, whether the light at the end of the eurozone tunnel is within reach. We will probably find out by the middle of next year. (sources: Reuters, Le Monde, Deutsche Welle, La Vanguardia, Courrier International, Project Syndicate, The Economist).Spotlight on Geopolitics