Europe’s Coming Summer Of Discontent

The summer of 2010 promises to be the most tumultuous summer in the short history of the European Union.  The sovereign debt crisis sweeping the continent threatens to cause economic and political instability on a scale not seen in Europe for decades.  The truth is that governments across the eurozone have accumulated gigantic piles of debt that simply are not sustainable.  Prior to the implementation of the euro, these European governments often “printed” their way out of messes like this, but now they can’t do that.  Now they either have to dramatically cut government expenses or they have to default.  But the austerity measures that the IMF and the ECB are pressuring these European governments to adopt are likely to have some very painful side effects.  Not only will these austerity measures cause a significant slowdown in economic growth, they are also likely to cause the same kinds of protests, strikes and riots that we saw in Greece to erupt all over Europe.

You see, most Europeans have become very accustomed to the social welfare state.  Tens of millions of Europeans aren’t about to let anyone cut their welfare payments or the wages on their cushy government jobs.  In most of the European nations that are experiencing big financial problems there are very powerful unions and labor organizations that do not want anything to do with austerity measures and that are already mobilizing.

As the IMF and the ECB continue to push austerity measures all over Europe this summer, the chaos that we witnessed in Greece could end up being repeated over and over again across the continent.  This could truly be Europe’s summer of discontent.

The following are just a few of the countries that we should be watching very carefully in the months ahead….

Spain

In many ways, the economic situation in Spain is now even worse than the economic situation in Greece.  Spain’s unemployment was already above 20 percent even before this recent crisis.  There are now 4.6 million people without jobs in Spain.  There are 1.6 million unsold properties in Spain, six times the level per capita in the United States.  Total public/private debt in Spain has reached 270 percent of GDP.

But this past week things really started to spin out of control in Spain.   Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of The Telegraph describes the current situation in Spain this way….

For Spain it has been a horrible week. The central bank seized CajaSur and imposed draconian write-down rules on banks to restore confidence. The Spanish Socialist and Workers Party (PSOE) of Jose Luis Zapatero then rammed a 5pc cut in public wages through the Cortes by a single vote, shattering consensus. The government cannot hope to pass a budget. Its own trade union base is planning a general strike.

The austerity measures that Spain has been pressured to implement have proven so unpopular in Spain that many are now projecting that Spain’s socialist government will be forced to call early elections.

Spain finds itself in a very difficult position.  They have a debt that they cannot possibly handle, the IMF and the ECB are pressuring Spain to implement austerity measures which are wildly unpopular with the public, and if Spain does implement those austerity measures it may send the Spanish economy into a downward spiral.

In addition, the fact that Fitch Ratings has stripped Spain of its AAA status has pushed Spain to the edge of financial oblivion.

A recent editorial inEl Pais spoke of the “perverse spiral” that Spain’s economy is entering….

“The Fitch note drives home the apparently unsolvable contradiction in which the Spanish economy finds itself. To maintain debt solvency Spain must squeeze public spending: yet this policy undermines the chances of recovery which itself causes further loss of confidence.”

And Spain’s very powerful labor organizations are not about to take these austerity measures sitting down.  In fact, the two largest trade unions in Spain are already calling for a general strike.

So could Spain end up being the next Greece?

France

France admitted on Sunday that keeping its top-notch credit rating would be “a stretch” without some tough budget decisions.

But French citizens are not too keen on belt-tightening.  We all remember the massive riots in France a few years ago when it was proposed the the work week should be shortened.  It certainly seems unlikely that the French will accept “tough budget decisions” without making some serious noise.

Italy

The Italian government recently approved austerity measures worth 24 billion euros for the years 2011-2012.  But the Italian public is less than thrilled about it.

In fact, Italy’s largest union has announced that it will propose to its members a general strike at the end of June to protest these measures.

Portugal

Under pressure from the IMF and the ECB, Portugal has agreed to impose fresh austerity measures that include much higher taxes and very deep budget cuts.

And the truth is that Portugal desperately needs to do something to get their finances under control.  Recent EU data shows that Portugal’s total debt is 331 percent of GDP, compared to only 224 percent for Greece.

So will the Portuguese public accept these austerity measures?

It doesn’t seem likely.

In fact, Fernando Texeira dos Santos, Portugal’s finance minister, says that he expects “violent episodes” comparable to those in Greece but insists that there is no other option.

So it promises to be a wild summer in Portugal.  The CGTP trade union federation in Portugal has promised to mobilize their members….

“Either we come up with a very strong reaction or we will be reduced to bread and water.”

Romania

They have already been rioting in the streets in Romania.

Tens of thousands of workers and pensioners recently took to the streets in Romania to protest the harsh austerity measures that the Romanian government is imposing at the request of the International Monetary Fund.

The Romanian people have been through incredibly hard times before, and they aren’t about to let the IMF and the ECB impose strict austerity measures on them without a fight.

Germany

It is being reported that Germans are bracing themselves for a “bitter” round of government budget cuts.  It seems that even Germany has some belt-tightening to do.

In addition, resentment is rising fast in Germany as the population there realizes that it is Germany that is going to be the one funding a large portion of the bailouts for these other European nations.

How long will the German people be able to control their tempers?

Ireland

The Wall Street Journal is warning that Ireland could be Europe’s next financial basket case.

Why?

Well, the Irish have gotten into a ton of debt, and they are now finding it very expensive to finance new debt.  The Irish government is now paying approximately 2.2 percentage points more than Germany is to borrow money for 10 years, while Spain (even with their economy in such a state of disaster) only has to pay 1.6 percentage points more than Germany.

But if “austerity measures” come to Ireland, how do you think the public will react?

It likely would not be pretty.

The United Kingdom

The exploding debt situation in the U.K. was a major issue in the most recent election.  David Cameron promised the voters to get the U.K.’s exploding debt situation under control.  But the coming budget cuts are likely to be incredibly painful.  In fact, Bank of England governor Mervyn King has even gone so far as to warn that public anger over the coming austerity measures will be so painful that whichever party is seen as responsible will be out of power for a generation.

But it isn’t just national governments that are in trouble in Europe.  The European Central Bank is warning that eurozone banks could face up to 195 billion euros in losses during a “second wave” of economic problems over the next 18 months.

The truth is that almost everyone is expecting the next couple of years to be very tough economically all across Europe.

But the vast majority of the European public is not going to understand the economics behind what is happening.  All most of them are going to know is that the budget reductions, tax increases and pay cuts really, really hurt and that is likely to result in a whole lot of anger.

When Europeans get really angry it isn’t pretty.  If what happened in Greece is any indication, this upcoming summer and fall could be a really wild one throughout Europe.

“Euroland, burned down. A continent on the way to bankruptcy”
-The front page of Der Spiegel, May 5th, 2010

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Get Ready To Taste The Bitter Side Of Keynesian Economics

Most Americans have no idea what the term “Keynesian economics” means, but the truth is that it has been deeply influencing U.S. economic policy for decades.  Essentially, it is an economic theory that originated with a 20th century British economist named John Maynard Keynes, and it advocates government intervention in the economy in order to smooth out economic cycles.  The general idea was that lower interest rates and increased government spending could be used to increase aggregate demand when the economy was experiencing a downturn, thus increasing economic activity and reducing unemployment.

And you know what?

To a certain degree, Keynesian economic theory actually does work.

Increased government spending DOES stimulate the economy.

But the problem is that governments all over the world decided that they would just run constant budget deficits and stimulate the economy all the time.

All of this debt has brought a temporary prosperity to many of the nations around the globe, but there is one huge problem with debt.

It has to be paid back eventually.

With interest.

So what happens when nations have to start spending huge chunks of their national budgets just to service all the debt that they have piled up?

Well, that is when they taste the bitter side of Keynesian economics.

In fact, we see that starting to happen all over the world right now.

All of a sudden, governments all over the globe are talking about huge budget cuts, pay decreases, and higher taxes.

We all know about what is going on in Greece right now, but suddenly it seems like “austerity measures” are being implemented all over the place.  Just consider the following examples….

*Portugal has pledged to impose fresh austerity measures that include much higher taxes and dramatic budget cuts.

*Barack Obama is personally pressuring Spain to make severe austerity cuts.

*It’s not just Southern Europe that is facing these austerity measures either.  It is being reported that Germans are bracing themselves for a “bitter” round of budget cuts.

*The exploding debt situation in the U.K.was a major issue in the most recent election.  Bank of England governor Mervyn King has even gone so far as to warn that public anger over the “austerity measures” that soon must be implemented in the U.K. will be so painful that whichever party is seen as responsible will be out of power for a generation.

*Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says that United States citizens will soon have to make difficult choices between higher taxes and reduced government spending.

*California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is reportedly planning to seek “terrible cuts” to eliminate an $18.6 billion budget deficit facing the most-populous U.S. state through June 2011.

*In fact, many U.S. states are getting ready for their biggest budget cuts in decades.

Austerity measures for everyone?

That is the way it is shaping up.

So what happens when austerity measures are implemented?

Well, just as Keynesian economics correctly predicts that economic growth goes up when government spending increases, it also correctly tells us that economic growth goes down when government spending decreases.

So all of these austerity measures are going to mean economic pain for a whole lot of people.

Not only that, but there are now whispers that this European debt crisis could potentially cause the break up of the euro.

Whether or not that is actually the case, officials in Europe are sure seizing on this crisis to advocate for increased centralization of power in the EU.

For example, senior administrators of the European Union are proposing that they be given unprecedented power to scrutinize the spending plans of member countries before national parliaments can vote on those budgets.

Talk about a loss of sovereignty.

But not only that, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has come right out and said that he believes that the European Union must become a federalized fiscal union if it is to survive.

Doesn’t it seem like whenever there is a crisis the solution that is always being proposed is to give centralized institutions even more power?

There has also been talk that nations such as Greece could end up being ejected from the euro, but the reality is that such a scenario is not very likely.

For one thing, the ECB has already come out and said that under current EU law, ejection of a nation from the monetary union is “legally next to impossible”.

In addition, leaders throughout Europe realize that if the euro fails then the entire EU may fail as well.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel made this very clear when she recently warned that if the euro collapses, “then Europe and the idea of European union will fail.”

For many in Europe that would seem like a disaster, but the truth is that it would be a wonderful, wonderful thing if the euro failed.

Why?

Because it would represent a major defeat for those who are seeking to drag us towards a “world currency” and a “global government”.

It would also be a huge victory for those who still believe in national sovereignty and the decentralization of economic power.

So let us hope that the euro breaks up.

But don’t count on it.

Meanwhile, the one thing that we can count on is all of the economic pain that all of these new austerity measures are going to bring.

Will The U.K. Be The Next European Nation To Experience A Massive Debt Crisis?

Now that the Greek debt crisis has been “fixed” by a gigantic pile of more debt, many are wondering which European nation will be next to experience a massive debt crisis.  Increasingly, all eyes are turning to the U.K. and their public debt that is spiralling out of control.  The U.K. government’s deficit is projected to be approximately 13 percent of GDP in 2010, which is even worse than Greece’s 12.5 percent figure.  Right now the public debt of the U.K. is “only” at 68 percent of GDP, but three years ago it was sitting at about 40 percent, so as you can see the national debt of the U.K. is absolutely exploding in size.  In fact, it is now being projected that the public debt of the U.K. will exceed 100 percent of GDP within the next three years.  Considering the fact that citizens of the U.K. are some of the most highly taxed people in the world already, there just is not much room for raising more revenue.

So obviously there is a problem.

A massive, unchecked, out of control problem that threatens to blow out the entire U.K. economy.

And considering the fact that it took just about everything that Europe could muster to bail out poor little Greece, how in the world is Europe going to be able to bail out the U.K. when their debt crisis violently erupts?

If Greece almost brought down the euro and the financial system of Europe, then what would a financial implosion in the U.K. do?

Considering the fact that the Greek economy is approximately 16% the size of the U.K. economy, it is very sobering to think what a “Greek style” debt crisis in the U.K. would mean for the entire world.

But if something is not done rapidly it will happen.

Just consider the following charts….

Now how in the world do you go from a deficit that is between 2 and 3 percent of GDP in 2007 to one that is above 11 percent in 2009?  That takes some serious financial mismanagement.  Not only that, but as we mentioned earlier, this year the deficit is projected to be approximately 13 percent of GDP.  That is a level that is catastrophic.

Kornelius Purps, the fixed income director of Europe’s second largest bank is very open about the fact that he believes that the U.K. is likely the next European nation that will face a very serious debt crisis….

“Britain’s AAA-rating is highly at risk. The budget deficit is huge at 13% of GDP and investors are not happy. The outgoing government is inactive due to the election. There will have to be absolute cuts in public salaries or pay, but nobody is talking about that.”

In fact, Morgan Stanley has already warned that there is a very strong probability that some of the rating agencies may remove the U.K.’s AAA status before 2010 is over.

If that happened, it would make the crisis that we just saw in Greece look like a Sunday picnic.

So what must be done?

Well, already world financial authorities are calling for “austerity measures” and deep budget cuts to be implemented in the U.K., but the reality is that those moves will cause deep economic pain.

In fact, Bank of England governor Mervyn King recently warned that public anger over the “austerity measures” that soon must be implemented in the U.K. will be so painful that whichever party is seen as responsible will be out of power for a generation.

The cold, hard reality is that the U.K. is in for economic pain in any event.  Either they cut the budget and implement severe “austerity measures” which will hit people really hard economically, or they continue on the current course and risk a much worse version of what just happened in Greece.

Not that the rest of the world should be gloating about what is going on in the U.K. either.

The financial situation in Japan is even worse than what the U.K. is dealing with, and the United States is going to have the biggest economic downfall of them all one of these days.

As we wrote about yesterday, the sad truth is that the governments of the world are rapidly running out of money and are drowning in debt.  It is a gigantic mess, and the term “sovereign debt crisis” is going to pop up in the news very regularly from now on.

You see, it is not just the financial systems of the U.S. and the U.K. that are broken.  The entire world financial system is fundamentally flawed and is doomed to failure.

Right now the central banks of the world can do their best to try to hold things together with a tsunami of debt and paper money, but they are not going to be able to keep up this balancing act forever.

When it does all start coming apart and the dominoes do start falling, it is going to be a complete and total nightmare.  Paper currencies around the globe will lose value at breathtaking speeds as central banks flood economies with cash in an attempt to stop the madness.

But more debt and more paper never solves anything.  All it does is make the long-term problems even worse.

When the tipping point comes, things are going to move fast.  Let’s just hope that we all have a good bit more time to prepare before that happens.

The Juice Lady

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