Working Paper

The Eurozone crisis: A debt shortage as the final cause

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This paper proposes a different interpretation of the Eurozone crisis, seeing as its “final” cause European policies which have forced private savings down too low.

Neither fiscal profligacy nor capital flows are the “final” cause of the Eurozone political and institutional failure that thwarts the growth of output and jobs. The sovereign debt crisis and the capital flight of 2010-12 were triggered by the vulnerable position of credit-constrained local governments in a monetary union and of a fragmented banking system with no credible deposit insurance. If member countries were to comply from now on with present fiscal and macroeconomic rules, real growth and job creation would not be restored. The final cause of economic drag in the Eurozone must be searched for within those same rules.

The paper first offers a critical review of the notion of savings in orthodox theory as the source of funds available for investment. It finds that in a monetary economy, financial saving can be stored only in the form of a financial claim and requires an act that reflects on others. This means that an act of financial saving requires funding and must be associated with a corresponding act of another unit issuing debt. Savings do not fund. They need to be funded.

The paper then elaborates on a simple (“T-shirt”) model of private job creation in a monetary economy, where this is a function of the actual and the intended stock of private gross savings. When savings are in excess of the intended amount, private spenders create jobs, and when savings are short of the intended amount, private spenders destroy jobs. Assuming intended savings as a given, and because the ultimate source of savings is debt, then any policy that inhibits the formation of debt also inhibits the formation of financial savings and jobs.

If debt (private, public, or foreign) is the final fuel for spending, then Eurozone rules that put a cap on public debt inhibit one major source of savings. Differences in economic units’ financial balances are the ordinary condition of a monetary economy, and policy should be aimed at supporting those differences that best work towards policy goals, not forcing a reduction of such differences by treating them as “imbalances”. Fiscal rules leave the Eurozone with two fragile and risky alternatives: building up more private debt or counting on a permanently high flow of net exports.