Currency wars, extra-national stimulus and Krugmania!: 5 best unusual solutions to the eurozone crisis

Five unusual solutions to the eurozone crisis, just in case you're bored of the ones that might actually happen.

1. The US and UK should engage in a currency war with the EU.

The problem the eurozone has is that European Central Bank president Mario Draghi is fashioning himself as the man with a carrot and stick. He knows that monetary policy can't solve all of the area's problems, and that national governments need to step up and do something to help the situation. Sadly, the policy he wants is more fiscal integration, which most countries are terrified of.

If European governments fall in line, then Draghi would be likely to implement the monetary easing which could really help the continent. Unfortunately, given the integration he demands is not forthcoming (because Germany is terrified of taking on Spain's debt and Spain is terrified of being a vassal state to Germany), it doesn't seem like the ECB is going to make any positive moves in the short term, instead choosing to futilely dangle the carrot a bit longer.

So what is to be done? Well, a worldwide crisis needs a worldwide solution. The Federal Reserve or the Bank of England could unilaterally start buying up euros. Matt Yglesias writes:

If the ECB just sat back and relaxed, that would make Europe's problems even worse. But the most likely scenario would be massive retaliation by the ECB and much-needed transatlantic monetary stimulus.

Of course, it's true that this solution counts on the ECB reacting in a non-insane manner, which has only occasionally been a good betting strategy.

2. If you like stimulus so much, why don't you live there?

If the rest of the world wants a solution which removes agency from the hands of the ECB and Mario Draghi entirely, then ex-Federal  reserve official Joseph Gagnon's suggestion, submitted to the Washington Post's WonkBlog, may work:

There are two other individuals who have the same power as Draghi to end the euro crisis: Ben Bernanke and Zhou Xiaochuan. The Fed could do the next QE3 entirely in Spanish and Italian bonds and it would not require a vote in Congress or Presidential approval. It would push the euro up against the dollar, but Europeans would not be in a position to complain. The People’s Bank of China is estimated to hold nearly 1 trillion euros already and it could switch them from German bonds to Spanish bonds.

In other words, rather than telling the Europeans to do some monetary stimulus, or attempting to force their hands with a currency war, the US or China could simply pump money into the European periphery. Normally, of course, if you're going to stimulate somewhere, you would rather it was your own country; but if you can stop a worldwide slump following the collapse of a massive currency bloc, that's a pretty good use of your time as well.

3. Krugmania!

A recent ING analysis (pdf) runs through six possible scenarios for the eurozone, including "Draghia" (where everyone gives in to Draghi, makes a banking union, and he does fiscal stimulus), "Inflationia" (sort of the Eurozone voluntarily doing what is described in point one) and "Bondia" (Europe introduces "eurobonds", all the countries pooling their costs of borrowing).

But if we're looking at unlikely solutions, then their sixth scenario, "Krugmania", fits the bill. It calls for lots of fiscal stimulus, mainly used for public investment, and the ECB not raising interest rates every time inflation peaks. If matched with a commitment to reducing deficits over the long term only, ING see this plan adding 3 per cent to GDP and 2 per cent to employment throughout the eurozone over the next two years.

4. Greece defaults but doesn't exit

John Cochrane, a professor at the University of Chicago, is annoyed that Greece defaulting on its debt is always spoken of in conjunction with a Grexit:

The two steps are completely separate. If Illinois defaults on its bonds, it does not have to leave the dollar zone -- and it would be an obvious disaster for it to do so.

It is precisely the doublespeak confusion of sovereign default with breaking up a currency union which is causing a lot of the run.

But the main reason why default is spoken of is that doing so allows Grexit, which allows devaluation and a recovery in exports. Cochrane suggests that it be viewed another way:

They need to say they will tolerate sovereign default, bank failures, and drastic cuts in government payments rather than breakup.

Yes, cuts. The question for Greece is not whether it will cut payments. Stimulus is off the table, unless the Germans feel like paying for it, which they don't. The question for Greece is whether, having promised 10 euros, it will pay 10 devalued drachmas or 5 actual euros. The supposed benefit of euro exit and swift devaluation is the belief that people will be fooled that the 10 Drachmas are not a "cut" like the 5 euros would be. Good luck with that.

In other words, rather than defaulting in order to exit, default in order to avoid the exit. In this scenario, Greece is a sort of sacrificial lamb; they're damned if they do, or damned if they don't, but the rest of the eurozone is only damned one way. If they take the cuts and stay in the currency, maybe Spain and Portugal can be saved, at least.

5. Pan-european austerity

Actually, maybe not. Yeah, probably wouldn't work. No, not even for Estonia, despite what the President says. Especially given the "there's no money left" argument doesn't really work when people are paying Germany to take their euros.

Pictured: A Currency War. Maybe. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.