Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Eurozone Crisis

Today I was going to write about the Bulgarian Blue Card, but the current Eurozone crisis insists upon dominating the news.

Kalypso Nikolaidis - EUIn a nutshell, the banks in Europe were allowed to be almost as freewheeling as US banks, thus allowing them to make many risky deals and putting themselves in the same disastrous situation as their American counterparts. Of course, when I say "American counterparts", I mean "not Canada". You see, Canadian banks have been doing just fine throughout the crisis. Why? Seems they're more carefully regulated by the government and aren't allowed to run around throwing money in the air with lampshades on their heads. The Canadian banks were quite cross about this during boom times, but during the bust, they're a bit more contrite and grateful. Seems that government regulation isn't the demon that many claim, but that lack of regulation means Europeans may be continuing their bailout of large banks (sound familiar?).

But that brings us to Greece, another potentially expensive bailout. As one Greek friend explained to me rather succintly: the bureaucracy in Greece is so inefficient that it's virtually impossible to collect taxes. As a result, much of the economy is "off the books" and with a state which employs one out of every three people, it's completely unsustainable. However, many countries have a large amount of money invested in Greece. If their economy collapses this time, this could have a ripple effect around the world as it takes down other European economies. This might, in turn, take down the world economy.

In short, this is not a brilliant time economically. The next few weeks will tell us if Greece survives or falls. This, in turn, will tell us much about the EU. There are stronger and stronger voices calling for dissolution of the EU or giving up the Euro. I don't think this is likely to happen (don't forget that these calls were heard in the early formation of the US), but if governments don't get their acts together — and having a poorly-educated public talking about shutting down borders without understanding the implications doesn't help —things could get unpleasant over here.

Here in Amsterdam we're relatively isolated from the worst of the economic crisis, but it's hitting here, too. And the populism of some politicians is getting ugly. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. We risk the second Great Depression and so much of it has simply been caused by unfettered capitalism. I'm certainly a capitalist, but the near religious belief in laissez-faire has been a disaster. Sadly, I think it's a disaster we're not going to learn from.