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.

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What’s it like to be a human rights activist in post-Pussy Riot Russia?

It is five years since the feminist punk collective crashed Moscow’s Cathedral in a performance that got some of them jailed.

On 21 February 2012, five brightly-dressed members of Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot took to the alter of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to protest links between the Russian Orthodox Church and its “chief saint” Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Virgin birth-giver of God, drive away Putin!” they shouted from beneath now-iconic balaclavas.

The “Punk Prayer” was both a political statement and a powerful feminist message. Six months later, a judge sentenced three of the girls to two years in prison (one was rapidly released) on a conspicuously apolitical conviction of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

These past five years, Russia’s involvement in crises in Syria and Ukraine has cast a dark shadow over relations with an increasingly cleaved-off West. The year 2015 saw opposition politician Boris Nemtsov murdered some 500 metres from the Kremlin walls.

Domestically, society has constricted people challenging the political status quo. However, low-key initiatives retain traction.

“Artists are simply silent,” says Russian curator and gallerist Marat Guelman, who left for Montenegro in early 2015. “It is better not to say anything about politics, it is better to bypass these issues.”

This is a major difference from five years ago. “Despite persecution against Pussy Riot, people were not afraid to defend them,” he says. “It was a better time.”

There are three topics artists and curators now avoid, says artist and feminist activist Mikaela. One is “homosexuality . . . especially if it involves adolescents”, she says, citing a 2015 exhibit about LGBT teens called “Be Yourself”. Authorities closed it and interrogated the galley owner. “Then the war in Ukraine,” she says. “Russian Orthodoxy is the third topic you cannot tackle.”

Marianna Muravyeva, a law professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that aside from the government completely discarding human rights rhetoric, the most significant legal change is the “gay propaganda” law and “legislation against those who insult the feelings of believers”.

The latter came into force in July 2013. Since then, the Orthodox Church has made deeper societal incursions. Muravyeva says that the secular nature of the Soviet Union led to residual feelings of guilt towards the Church – and now it uses that “capital”.

Mikaela observes a “cultural expansion”, citing a new TV channel, radio station and three new churches in her neighbourhood alone.

Orthodox activist attacks on exhibits have increased. In August 2015, they targeted an exhibit at one of Moscow’s most prominent art galleries. Its perpetrators were found guilty of “petty hooliganism” and handed a 1,000 rouble fine (£14 by today’s rates).

“Any word written in Old Slavonic lettering is spirituality,” says Guelman. “Any work of art by a modern artist . . . depravity, sin, the impact of the West.”

Similar groups are active across Russia, and galleries err on the side of caution. Perpetrators, while self-organised, believe their actions to be state-sanctioned, says Muravyeva. They are influenced by “the kinds of messages” conveyed by the government. 

Nowadays, self-organisation is integral to artistic expression. Mikaela witnessed educational institutions and foreign foundations telling artists “we are with you”, “we know you are smart” but they cannot host political works for fear of closure. Not knowing where the “invisible line” lies foments uncertainty. “It’s self-censorship,” she says.

Dissident artist Petr Pavlensky, notorious for nailing his scrotum to the Red Square in late 2013 (“Fixation”) and setting fire to the doors of the FSB in 2015, advocates personal agency.

“Fixation” was about a sense of helplessness in Russia that must be overcome; he tried to convey the amount of power the castrated have. “Pavlensky says, ‘Look, I have even less than you’,” says Guelman. The artist and his partner Oksana Shalygina are now in France intending to seek asylum after sexual assault accusations.

Some rise to the opportunity, such as Daria Serenko. She rides the Moscow Metro carrying political posters as part of Tikhy Piket or “Silent Protest”. Her 12 February sign depicted a girl with her head in her arms inundated by the comments received if a women alleges rape (“she was probably drunk”, “what was she wearing?”).

However, as a lone individual in a public space, she experienced hostility. “Men, as always, laughed,” she posted on Facebook afterwards. Earlier this month an anonymous group pasted painted plants accompanied by anti-domestic violence messages around Omsk, southwestern Siberia.

Their appearance corresponded with Putin signing legislation on 7 February decriminalising domestic abuse that causes “minor harm”. While it doesn’t specifically mention women, Muravyeva says that the message “women can manage on their own” is a “disaster”.

On 27 January, after Russia’s parliament passed the final draft, pro-Kremlin tabloid Life released a video (“He Beats You Because He Loves You”) showing how to inflict pain without leaving a mark.

Heightened social awareness is aided by online networks. Since “Punk Prayer”, the proportion of people using the internet in Russia has exploded. In 2011, it was 33 per cent, while in 2016 it was 73 per cent, according annual Freedom House reports. Authorities have concurrently exerted stronger controls over it, eg. targeting individual social media users through broadly-worded laws against “extremism”.

Last July, the hashtag #ЯНеБоюсьСказать (“#IamNotAfraidtoSay”) went viral. Women documented experiences of sexual violence. Russian organisation Сёстры (“Sisters”), which helps survivors receive psychological support, receives “250-350” crisis calls annually.

“Over the past year, the number of applications increased,” because of the hashtag, it says. New media platforms Meduza and Wonderzine also emerged as more “socially aware” outlets. Previously “all we had was LiveJournal communities,” Mikaela says.

Bottom-up challenges are partially due to a generational shift. “Nobody bothered before,” says Muravyeva. “Those children who were born after ‘95 . . . they were already born in a very free society – they don’t know what it is to be afraid, they don’t know what it is to be self-censoring, what it is to be really scared of the state.”

Aliide Naylor is a British journalist and former Arts and Ideas Editor of The Moscow Times.

> Now read Anoosh Chakelian’s interview with Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot