Just when you thought it was safe for your RRSP to head back into the market, this happens! Greece melts down, Portugal, Spain and Ireland are not far behind, all of the Euro Zone erupts like an Icelandic volcano and the stock markets take your retirement plans on an express elevator ride back to the basement.
The New York Times called the stock markets' behaviour in the last few hours "a harrowing plunge." There was, the Times bloviated yesterday, "near panic on Wall Street." The Times' front-page stenographers, not surprisingly, preferred to soothingly blame something fixable, like computerized stock-trading programs, rather than fixate on the grief aroused by what a Grecian earns. Still, it must have been pretty bad: The voice of the American gilded class even editorialized in favour of hard-nosed financial reform!
Dig a little deeper in the Times' pages, and you’ll come across Thursday's explanation of the crisis by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. (He, reassuringly, characterizes the markets' condition as a mere "swoon." Whatever.) He argues that the problems poor Greece (in every sense of the phrase) now faces are rooted in its use of the Euro as its currency. If Greece had its own currency, he says, it could devalue its way out of the crisis. No such luck in the Euro Zone, though, when Germany has its paws firmly on the Euro levers.
Indeed, recent performance of different currencies relative to the U.S. dollar would seem to support this view. While the Euro, whose users other than the Germans don’t control their own fiscal policies, takes the down escalator, the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars head in the opposite direction. This is not to say that a too-strong Canadian dollar is not fraught with economic problems of its own, but it is an indication of the markets’ perceptions of the core strength of our economy and our ability to deal with economic upsets.
Meanwhile, when the eruption has subsided and the policy dust has settled across the pond, Krugman posits, only the unthinkable remains: "Greece leaving the Euro." This, as is always said in Journalese, would send "shock waves through Europe."
But even a dark cloud like this has a silver lining. Does anyone remember the Amero? The Amero was the fevered imaginary creation of various right-wing think tankers a few years ago, a North American response to the Euro, a tri-national currency that would at last strip Canada and Mexico of any ability to act in their own economic interests. (Cue upbeat music, possibly a mariachi band.)
The Fraser Institute (but of course) published a lengthy thumb-sucker on the topic that found very little wrong with the idea of a North American monetary union. Among the good things we could expect from it, opined author Herbert G. Grubel, was increased labour market discipline, as in Europe. "The same benefits would accrue in Canada, where unionization is about 35 percent of the labour force, much higher than that in the United States." Well, gee, it just doesn’t get any better than this!
Wait, that isn’t what we were supposed to quote! Yeah, this is it! As the foreword to the "study," by perennial Liberal Party insider Gordon Gibson, said: a North American monetary union would bring "greater price stability, significantly lower long-term interest rates, enhanced trade, greater productivity, and the creation of more wealth in Canada…" Now that’s more like the Fraser Institute we used to know.
Alas for them, the restive Greeks should lay waste to that plan, at least until the next uptick in the Euro.
For the rest of us, we who are forced to work to survive, the grief in Greece is a useful reminder of just what can happen when a country surrenders its national sovereignty. We should keep it in mind.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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