Europe’s Economy and the Future: What It Means For Us

Sean Para, Columnist

Many important economies in Western Europe remain in peril. Italy, Spain and Greece are all locked in debt crises. Italy’s election earlier this week did nothing to ameliorate the situation. Tragically, a comedian won 25 percent of the popular vote. Neither Silvio Berlusconi, the nefarious and lascivious prime minister and business magnate who was forced out of office in November 2011, nor his center-left opponent Pier Luigi Bersani, could muster enough votes to form a government.

Currently, Italy has no prime minister or working government. This is but one example of many in which European voters have outright rejected the austerity measures forced upon them by their leaders, such as those of the technocrat Mario Monti who was recently ousted from office and now leads the Italian caretaker government (Monti was defeated and won only 10 percent of the popular vote in the election). Besides the obvious reluctance of Europeans to dismantle the comprehensive welfare states that have defined European political systems since 1945, there is a more elusive reason for this failure: The austerity measures espoused by European economists and politicians as the only solution to Europe’s fiscal woes simply do not work.

Since the 2008 financial crisis and resultant European debt crisis, European leaders have attempted to outdo each other in proposing and implementing radical austerity measures in order to reduce debt and spark economic recovery. Many still hold to this view. Yet, the European economy has not recovered, even at the anemic pace of America’s economy.

The policies, based around increasing revenue through higher taxation while simultaneously implementing radical cuts to all types of government spending, do more harm than good. Instead of pumping money into the economy, as the American stimulus plan tried to do, these measures deflate the European economy by taxing away money that could be used for economic growth while also reducing government spending and thus further taking money out of the Europe’s ailing economies.

The debt-to-GDP ratios have even increased in some countries. The nations with harsher austerity measures have suffered worse downturns. These policies obviously do not succeed in their goal of creating confidence in these governments’ commitment to debt-reduction. Europeans still cling to these measures out of a delusional hope that they will ultimately succeed. It is time for a change.

Europe must look to America to regain its economic footing. The American strategy of large-scale spending to induce economic growth despite the increased debt incurred by such policies has proven largely successful. The American economy has regained jobs and begun a trend of long-term growth, despite the slight contraction in the fourth quarter of 2012. The future of the massive debt that the United States government owes to foreign and domestic creditors remains to be seen, yet it will be far easier to reduce debt to a more manageable level once the economy has healed. There is talk of a free trade agreement between the Europe Union and the United States. This would reduce the already low tariffs on goods across the Atlantic and be to the benefit of both economies.

Most of all, the European political community must abandon austerity measures and stimulate Europe’s ailing economies through large-scale spending programs and tax reductions. If Europe is to regain its economic footing, it must abandon its current course and attempt more successful solutions to its economic problems.