Can Sesame Street Help Europe’s Finance Ministers Understand the Debt Crisis? (Members of Congress Take Note)

You might expect the head of the group of countries that use the euro to understand the common currency better than anyone. You would be wrong.

Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the Eurozone’s group of finance ministers, can’t figure out why financial markets are so anxious about Europe’s ability to service its debt and so unconcerned about debt levels in other parts of the world. He’s convinced that Europe’s fundamentals are better than ours, so he can’t figure out why investors are gobbling up Treasuries despite the “disastrous” debt level here in this United States. To him, financial markets appear to be getting it badly wrong. He said:

“The real problem is that no one can explain well why the euro zone is in the epicenter of a global financial challenge at a moment, at which the fundamental indicators of the euro zone are substantially better than those of the U.S. or Japanese economy.

Well, Mr. Junker, not only have we – the scholars of MMT – explained why the debt crisis hit members of the Eurozone, we also predicted that the design of the euro system would lead, precisely, to this outcome. Even before the launching of the euro, people like Charles Goodhart, Wynne Godley, Jan Kregel and Warren Mosler were sounding the alarms, warning that the Maastricht Treaty contained a dangerous design flaw that would strip member nations of their power to safely expand their deficits in times of economic crises. And so while mainstream economists like Willem Buiter were busy arguing over the appropriateness of the 3% deficit-to-GDP and 60% debt-to-GDP limits established under the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), those of us working in the MMT tradition were busy pointing out that bond markets, not the SGP, would impose the relevant constraint under the new monetary system. I wrote in 2003:

“[B]y forsaking their monetary independence and agreeing to the terms set out in Article 104 of the Maastricht Treaty …. obligations issued by EUR-11 governments begin to resemble those issued by state and local governments in the United States ….. Since markets will perceive some members of the EUR-11 as more creditworthy than others, financial markets will not view bonds issued by different nations as perfect substitutes. Therefore, high-debt countries may be unable to secure funding on the same terms as their low-debt competitors. ….. if interest payments are becoming a significant portion of a member state’s total outlays, it may be difficult to convince financial markets to accept new issues in order to service the growing debt.”

As a group, we warned that without a fiscal analogue to the ECB, the euro was essentially an accident waiting to happen – a sort of ticking bomb, ready to ignite the periphery at the slightest strain on public budgets. We wrote pamphlets, articles, chapters and books, travelled the Eurozone, met with elected officials, appeared on television, radio, and in print media.

We explained that the issuer of a non-convertible fiat currency never faces an external funding constraint. The United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada can always pay their debts on time and in full. They cannot “go broke” or be forced to default on their obligations.

In contrast, we explained that Greece, Portugal, Ireland and the rest of the Eurozone nations have become users of their currency. They cannot create the euro. They can become insolvent, and they can be forced into default. And yet Mr. Junker claims that no one has been able to explain why the Eurozone remains in the epicenter of a global financial crisis.

Today, we continue to write about what went wrong and what the ECB could do to restore prosperity. William Black, Randy Wray, Marshall Auerback, William Mitchell, Warren Mosler, and I have worked tirelessly to explain that countries that are USERS of their currency just aren’t like the U.S. and Japan.

Perhaps we have been too opaque. Let’s try something simpler. Carefully study the images below.

Now watch this:

About Stephanie Kelton 24 Articles

Affiliation: University of Missouri

Stephanie Kelton, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Research Scholar at The Levy Economics Institute and Director of Graduate Student Research at the Center for Full Employment and Price Stability.

Her research expertise is in: Federal Reserve operations, fiscal policy, social security, health care, international finance and employment policy.

Visit: Economic Perspectives

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