The Risk of Deflation in the Eurozone

In January, Lucas Papademos, Vice-President of the European Central Bank ECB), strongly suggested that inflation would not fall much below 2% in the eurozone (see the end of this post).  Translated from the language of central bankers, he implied that the risk of deflation in the eurozone was virtually nil.

Now Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the ECB, with reference to the latest eurozone (0%) inflation rate, says that we should disregard the data because a recovery is just around the corner.

Alternatively, we are close to the baseline eurozone view laid out in my January presentation (part of a panel discussion with Mr Papademos).  You can break this down into three specifics.

  1. Private sector demand is weak; it’s hard to see who will lead the recovery within the eurozone.  In addition, the demand for European exports has fallen much more than expected, as seen – for example – in the big decline in German Q1 output.
  2. The ability of the public sector to offset this decline with discretionary fiscal policy is quite limited, due to balance sheet constraints in some countries (look at the latest credit default swap data from weaker euro sovereigns; CDS primer) and clear policy preferences in others (i.e., how Germany worries about inflation, even when there is none).
  3. Banks look troubled across many eurozone countries, and as the real economy surprises on the downside these problems will increase – with presumed implications for government bailout programs and balance sheets (the IMF was quite negative, see Tables 1.3 and 1.4 on pp.28 and 34 respectively, on European banks before the latest round of bad news).  Remember that the European economy depends on banks much more than does the US.

If the world turns around and/or oil prices continue to rebound, the eurozone can presumably avoid deflation.  But it’s hard to see inflation rising any time soon due to the eurozone’s own dynamic.

And if deflation takes root, it is hard to see this proving more tractable or less damaging than deflation in Japan during the 1990s.  Which part of Japan’s lost decade now looks easy to avoid in Europe?

About Simon Johnson 101 Articles

Simon Johnson is the Ronald A. Kurtz (1954) Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT's Sloan School of Management. He is also a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., a co-founder of, a widely cited website on the global economy, and is a member of the Congressional Budget Office's Panel of Economic Advisers.

Mr. Johnson appears regularly on NPR's Planet Money podcast in the Economist House Calls feature, is a weekly contributor to's Economix, and has a video blog feature on The New Republic's website. He is co-director of the NBER project on Africa and President of the Association for Comparative Economic Studies (term of office 2008-2009).

From March 2007 through the end of August 2008, Professor Johnson was the International Monetary Fund's Economic Counsellor (chief economist) and Director of its Research Department. At the IMF, Professor Johnson led the global economic outlook team, helped formulate innovative responses to worldwide financial turmoil, and was among the earliest to propose new forms of engagement for sovereign wealth funds. He was also the first IMF chief economist to have a blog.

His PhD is in economics from MIT, while his MA is from the University of Manchester and his BA is from the University of Oxford.

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