“The euro will not survive the first major European recession.” – Milton Friedman, 1999
“It seems to me that Europe, especially with the addition of more countries, is becoming ever-more susceptible to any asymmetric shock. Sooner or later, when the global economy hits a real bump, Europe’s internal contradictions will tear it apart.” – Milton Friedman, 1999
“… there will be asymmetric shocks hitting the different countries. That will mean that the only adjustment mechanism they have to meet that with is fiscal and unemployment: pressure on wages, pressure on prices.” – Milton Friedman, 1998
“Barry Eichengreen (1990b), in a detailed analysis of the potential lessons for EMU from the U.S. experience, concluded that monetary integration would limit fiscal independence. He argued that the extent of fiscal transfers in the European Union would have to significantly exceed the extent of fiscal transfers in the United States to be successful, as regional shocks were likely to be significantly greater in EMU countries than in the states of the United States.” – From a lengthy (and exhausting) paper at the Econ Journal Watch, analyzing the writing of scores of US economists about the euro from 1989-2002. The paper was humorously titled “It Can’t Happen, It’s a Bad Idea, It Won’t Last: U.S. Economists on the EMU and the Euro, 1989-2002.”
Greece was (and is) the first real test of the euro. Until the Greek crisis, there was no real need for any eurozone country to actually write a check for any other member. Ireland obligingly shouldered the responsibility for its own bad bank debts, paying off mostly German, French, and British bankers. But Greece required someone else to take the losses and write the checks to bail the country out. The European Central Bank had to agree to allow the Bank of Greece to create euros to bail out its banks (with the fig leaf that somehow Greece will pay them back). As the Greek economy collapsed in the aftermath of the recent crisis, it became evident even to European bankers and regulators that Greece could not pay its debt. Money began to flee Greek banks.
Greece is a small country with large implications. Last week we began to explore what I learned from my recent trip to Greece. In this week’s letter we will finish those observations and in particular look at some of the comments from my meetings with over 40 people: owners of small businesses and large ones, billionaires, taxi drivers, politicians, central bankers, investors, ex-patriots, wives, and mothers. I believe we can arrive at some small understanding of the problems Greece faces. Then we will consider the broader consequences for Europe.
But first, I take great pleasure in announcing the speaker line-up for my 10th annual Strategic Investment Conference, May 1-3. Here they are, in alphabetical order: Kyle Bass, Mohamed El-Erian, Niall Ferguson and his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Lacy Hunt, Charles and Louis Gave, Jeff Gundlach, Anatole Kaletsky, David Rosenberg, Nouriel Roubini, and Gary Shilling. We are finalizing a few other well-known names as well. Seriously, where…