Ask a child who broke a chair or drew on the walls or put cat food in shoes what happened, and they are liable to answer: “Dolly did it”.
Apparently dolly is also now to blame for what’s happening in Greece.
We have murmurings that Greece’s woes–the latest being the downgrade of its sovereign debt to junk by Standard & Poor’s amid worries about its financing risks and growth outlook–aren’t of its own making. It was the euro that did it.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has been quoted in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as saying the real cause of Greece’s crisis lies in the euro and not the country’s economic policy. It is “the euro that causes this tragedy,” he’s cited as saying.
In a way it’s surprising that we haven’t heard more of this sooner. Greece’s problems, and the worries about others in the region, like Portugal and Spain, provide the perfect chance to hammer the euro-zone and the euro in particular.
Finance ministers in the euro-zone haven’t shied away in the past in complaining about the euro’s level. It’s either too strong, or too weak, but never just right. The European Central Bank has been much more relaxed about the euro’s level than individual countries, in part because its primary monetary policy objective is to maintain price stability; certainly it’s not indicated any inclination to intervene in the market to adjust the currency.
Finance ministers also tend to grumble about the difficulties of a unitary monetary policy system. Interest rates that suit one country may not suit another.
But that’s not what caused Greece to get into such a mess. Blaming the euro is like giving Greece a leave pass for all its silly mistakes.
Its problems came about in some measure at least because it fudged its fiscal position to gain entry to the euro-zone. That fudging continued after it joined, and allowed government officials for years to sweep the budgetary problems under the carpet and operate in an increasingly precarious position.
Greece ignored its own difficulties, no doubt hoping that if it closed its eyes it’d all magically disappear.
People can argue that an elevated euro hurt the country’s exports or that interest rates were too high (though the ECB has kept them low for some time), and this sorry episode has highlighted the issues of a union like the euro-zone where there is a one-size-fits-all currency and monetary policy, but the Greek tragedy is largely one of its own making.