The dominant view, both on the mainstream right and on the left, holds that the Eurozone crisis is a crisis of labour-cost competitiveness—with trade imbalances (and hence foreign indebtedness) being driven by divergences in relative unit labour costs (RULCs) between surplus and deficit countries. To re-balance Eurozone growth, the mainstream solution is a deflationary policy of ‘internal devaluation’ (i.e. cutting the wage share by as much as 30%) in the deficit countries. The ‘progressive’ view holds that the surplus countries should adjust by raising their wage shares. We argue that both sides of this debate are wrong and unhelpful. Europe’s trade imbalances are determined by domestic and world demand—whilst RULC divergences play only a negligible role. Eurozone growth can only be revived when Eurozone demand growth is restored, not by lowering wages here and/or raising them there. The current deflationary adjustment forced on the wage-led economies of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain is self-destructive: it is a ‘confidence killer’, not only deepening the free fall of southern European incomes but also damaging their productive base and productivity growth. The outlook is depressing—further increases in already high unemployment rates, inequality measures and poverty rates inconceivable in prosperous Europe just a few years ago—and arguably dystopian.
Bibliographical noteharvest,first published online September 15, 2014
- Macro-economic policy
- Eurozone crisis
- income distribution
- Price and non-price competitiveness