The Reign in Spain Is Not Keynes

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Via Brad Delong, here is Wolfgang Münchau writing about the latest mushrooming economic crisis in Europe, this one centered on Spain:

News coverage seems to suggest that the markets are panicking about the deficits themselves. I think this is wrong. The investors I know are worried that austerity may destroy the Spanish economy, and that it will drive Spain either out of the euro or into the arms of the European Stability Mechanism.

….The periodic episodes of market panic about Spain have always tended to follow an austerity announcement. One such episode came with the discussion that led to the recently introduced draft budget, which included a deficit correction of 3.2 per cent of gross domestic product for 2012. When Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, began to outline the deficit cuts for 2013 last week, the markets panicked again and drove Spanish 10-year yields back to 6 per cent. The targeted fiscal adjustment amounts to 5.5 per cent of GDP over a period of two years. It is one of the biggest fiscal adjustments ever attempted by a large industrial country. It is perfectly rational for investors to be scared.

Let’s put that into perspective. The GDP of the United States is $15 trillion. So 5.5% of GDP would be $820 billion. This means that Spain’s two-year target would be the equivalent of the United States cutting its annual budget by $410 billion. No one — literally no one, not even Paul Ryan — has suggested budget cuts anywhere remotely near those levels. Even though the U.S. economy is in much better shape than Spain’s, everyone believes that budget cuts of that magnitude would wreck our fragile recovery.

And yet, in Spain, which currently has unemployment levels about the same as ours during the Great Depression, that’s the plan. It’s barely short of insane.

So I’m not sure what to say about this, aside from writing interminable blog posts about how crazy it is. But if you want an analytic thought, here it is: Our titans of global finance usually talk like fiscal conservatives. They want low inflation, balanced budgets, and a restrained central bank. But during an economic downturn their actions speak differently. When they actually get all the stuff they say they like, they panic. In their guts they may be tea party conservatives, but when it comes time to actually risk their wealth, they make Paul Krugman look like some kind of milksop Austrian.

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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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