Joe Hendren

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Austin Mitchell and the economic woes of Europe

Found an amusing post on left-wing British Labour MP Austin Mitchell's blog, where he wonders what John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith would make of the current economic organisation of the EU, or more specifically, the Stability and Growth Pact and the dominance of bankers in setting monetary policy.

"Bankers Rule. Not OK. Never could be in fact. The priority of bankers is to fight inflation not get growth, which they fear as destabilising. Their instincts are deflationary. Their aims are to keep interest rates high (bankers love that, can't think why) and keep the exchange rate as high as possible, like a phallic symbol: proud when it's hard."
...
"Enthrone all that lot and what do you get? Europe today. There are benefits for small countries because the interest rate premium they paid for smallness is gone so Ireland Greece, even Spain, are bowling along. Yet for big, grown up, economies and the great majority of the people the result is disaster. The French can riot, the German unions demand, the Italians switch from one set of crooks to another, but no one can bring down unemployment, simply because they can't boost demand, borrow or spend. The only real strategy open to governments is "reform". That basically means cutting welfare, wages and public spending, firing workers and generally embarking on Merkel deflations."

"In the good old days of full employment and high growth the Germans kept the D Mark low to keep exports pounding out. Can't now. France and Italy periodically devalued to boost demand and accelerate growth. Can't now. Business invested and expanded production for export led growth. Can't now. In fact the smarter capitalists, rather than sit around to face the limitless future of misery Bankernomics offers them, are shifting as much as possible overseas. The interests of bankers are quite distinct from those of capitalism, workers, politicians or the people."


Mitchell then makes a comparison between the so called "battle against inflation" and another recent example of a declaration of war on an abstract concept.

"Of course all we losers can't be told that. So we're enrolled in a "battle against inflation". This excuses misery by a fight against a dead enemy in the same way as the politicians proclaim the "war against terrorism" to excuse repressive measures and the loss of civil liberties. So here we all are then, just as Orwell described life in 1984, mobilised to fight unwinnable wars against invisible enemies in order to distract attention from the misery, unemployment and alienation all around. That's Bankers' Europe. The two Johns would have had fun pointing all that out but it just makes me want to cry."

Personally I am not as Euro-sceptic as Austin Mitchell, but in terms of identifying one of the euro-zone's key economic problems I believe Mitchell hits the nail on the head. I have long thought the Stability and Growth Pact is a unworkable and inflexible monetarist piece of nonsense. Member states of the EU are forced to restrict annual budget deficits to 3% of GDP, and to make matters worse this restriction is calculated from year to year, thus making it impossible to take into account any wider economic cycles. In essence, it attempts to outlaw Keynesianism.

The fact that the Pact has been applied inconsistently since its introduction is another demonstration of its impracticality. The EU Council of Ministers did not apply any sanctions against France and Germany when they exceeded the budget deficit "limit" year after year.

At the time the Masstrict Treaty was being negotiated in the early 1990s Europe was dominated by centre-right governments with sympathy to monetarist reductionism, who held a simplistic view of the economy where inflation was the only evil worth worrying about. Yet when Europeans later decided to elect centre-left governments, plans for greater social spending were hampered (in some cases) by the restrictions of the Stability and Growth Pact.

While some form of economic agreement is needed to maintain a multi country currency like the Euro, this should not be used as an excuse to write extremist economic assumptions into "law" at the expense of democracy.

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4 Comments:

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Rich said...

The trouble with the EU is that there is no way for the people of Europe to collectively change the leadership. They vote for a parliament every five (four?) years, but that parliament comes a poor third to the council (national leaders) and the commission (unelected).

What is needed is an EU government, just like a national government but formed from the largest bloc in the parliament.

However eurosceptics like Mitchell are vehemently opposed to this because it would take their cherished "sovereignty" away.

 
At 4:53 PM, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

I agree an EU government like you suggest would be far better than what they have now.

But from what I can see most of the opposition to greater integration seems to be coming from the right. I see the push towards expansion of the EU by Britain and other countries as a means of slowing down integration, and therefore slowing down the democraticisation agenda. Blair is desperately trying to prevent Britian from being bound by EU laws to promote workers rights.

However I can understand why more and more of the left are likely to turn Eurosceptic while the EU remains fundumentally undemocratic.

 
At 2:11 AM, Blogger Comrade_Tweek said...

hmm...I am reminded that Mitchell did write a book called 'market socialism' in which he advocated many of the changes he now opposes...maybe the pot calling the kettle black...

 
At 9:31 PM, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

I am not that surprised to hear that. Although it would be nice if NZ had a few Labour MPs who would go through a similar transformation and realise 'market socialism' is a contradiction in terms.

 

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