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Europe’s December Surprise?

A pile of Euro notes. Photo: Images Money/Flickr

A pile of Euro notes. Photo: Images of Money/Flickr (by www.TaxFix.co.uk).

Over the past year, Europe has enjoyed calm financial markets. At the core of the market’s comfort were two assumptions about policy. First, that the European governments would do just enough to keep the process of European integration moving forward. Second, that the ECB would, in the words of Mario Draghi, do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. The centerpiece of the ECB’s subsequent efforts was expanded liquidity (through long-term repurchase operations and easier collateral requirements for banks to access ECB liquidity) and a commitment to purchase government bonds to support countries return to market (the OMT program). Even many pessimists who fear that Europe is trapped on a unsustainable, low-growth trajectory remain optimistic that Europe will do what it takes to navigate the near term risks. It may be time to question that optimism.

As many have noted, there is an increasing sense of adjustment fatigue in Europe, reflected in pressure on governments and the rise of anti-austerity, anti-establishment parties across the Eurozone. In rhetorical terms, Europe has responded, and fiscal policy looks likely to be broadly neutral in the year ahead. However, an overall fiscal relaxation that is needed in the euro area as a whole looks unlikely, as peripheral countries can’t afford much additional spending, while the core countries that can spend more seem disinclined to. » More

Two Policy Prescriptions for the Global Crisis

International Currency

International currency. Photo: Warriorwriter/flickr.

WASHINGTON, DC – One thing that experts know, and that non-experts do not, is that they know less than non-experts think they do. This much was evident at the just-completed Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group – three intense days of talks that brought together finance ministers, central bankers, and other policymakers.

Our economic expertise is limited in fundamental ways. Consider monetary and fiscal policies. Despite decades of careful data collection and mathematical and statistical research, on many large questions we have little more than rules of thumb. For example, we know that we should lower interest rates and inject liquidity to fight stagnation, and that we should raise policy rates and banks’ cash-reserve ratios to stifle inflation. Sometimes we rely on our judgment in combining interest-rate action with open-market operations. But the fact remains that our understanding of these policies’ mechanics is rudimentary.
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