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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue