Sunday, August 14, 2011

Euro: The downside of common currency

I'm not sure if the architects of the Euro could have envisaged a widespread economic contagion that covers Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (hence the porcine acronym of PIIGS).

Were it not for the Euro, I would imagine that if any nation goes into economic turmoil for whatever reason, say, the bursting of asset bubbles, the national currency will depreciate because that nation's debt will invariably increase. The conventional response to economic crisis is the printing of money to finance fiscal deficit.

Where a common currency is in play, which is the case of the PIIGS, there are many more variables. 

One such variable is the obvious differences in the economic health of member countries sharing the common currency.

Unlike the PIIGS, leading member countries like Germany and France are in relatively robust economic health. They would cherish a stable currency at a reasonable value relative to other currencies so that their cross-border trades within and outside of the European Community are predictable. 

But, the dilemma of the economically robust member countries is that they are now reluctant participants to bail out (or, to be politically correct, support) the PIIGS.

The common currency has become the unintended tether that threatens to pull down the healthy economies as they bailout the ailing ones. The awful metaphor is that of the mountaineers who have to deal with fallen colleagues whose lives are, literally, hanging by a thread.

Without the Euro, the PIIGS would have taken a depreciation of their currencies. Such depreciation would have made their exports cheaper. It would have made their tourist attractions cheaper relative to other destinations. Thus the natural ebb and flow of economics would have taken place.

With the Euro, the dilemma of the PIIGS is that their exports remain at a higher value than otherwise. And, visitors would still find the price of hotels, restaurants and trinkets still relatively expensive.

This scenario validates the stubborn resistance of the United Kingdom and many of the Scandinavian countries that resisted the pressure to join the Euro. 

Perhaps it is time to consider the dismantling of the Euro.

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