On Wednesday, nearly every major central bank announced that they would simultaneously pump billions of dollars into the global financial system. Over the summer, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) announced that U.S. banks likely had as much as $500 billion in indirect exposure to the Eurozone debt crisis. More likely than not, the two are more connected than what is being reported.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Federal Republic of Germany had what has been described by media outlets as nothing short of a disastrous sale of government bonds. This indicates that the European contagion that started in Greece has spread to the Euro’s economic heartland.
It also indicates what few analysts thought possible just a few weeks ago: Unless individual states in which the Euro is legal tender — collectively, the Eurozone — cede political and economic autonomy to the European Union (EU) government in Brussels, the once strong Euro has just weeks, if not days, to live.
The European economy’s further decline, while presented as shocking and unexpected, is anything actually anything but. Since Greece re-appeared on the world’s radar, the Eurozone crisis should have been depicted in terms of similar gravity to those used during wartime or other life-and-death struggles. With the exception of a few voices in the wilderness, this clearly has not been the case.
Most commentators have been focused on the short-term stop gaps spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, designed to fiscally punish Eurozone members whose balance sheets are less than stellar.
In fact, most commentators and policy makers have focused on the irresponsible actions of governments in Athens, Dublin, Madrid, Lisbon and Rome. They have been prone to argue that the fiscally strong Northern and Western nations like France and Germany are being dragged down by the periphery’s seemingly insurmountable debt.
But that narrative lacks any grasp of reality.
If this were merely a question of high levels of debt, Belgium, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 100 percent, would be included in the press’s descriptions of the damned.
The real issue has been Germany’s emphasis on maintaining a currency that is too strong. German industries have benefited now that they no longer have to compete with their poorer neighbors. But it has been disastrous to the periphery economies that were dependent on cheap exports. In layman’s terms, German economic “strength” depended upon the impoverishment of the rest of Europe. One need look no further than the European Central Bank’s (ECB) decision over the summer to raise interest rates to fight Germany’s sworn enemy, inflation. The fact that nearly every periphery country is in the midst of rampant deflation mattered little.
Politicians and policy makers, particularly German ones, have been unwilling to reach any long-term consensus. The French have proposed introducing a Eurobond, which would effectively give the European Union (EU) the right to finance the Eurozone’s debt. But several anti-EU politicians in Europe rightly see it as the beginning of the end of national sovereignty.
Not only would nations no longer be permitted to print and value their own money, but they would also be unable to unilaterally finance their own debt. Despite whatever merits of such a proposal, European governments are not likely going to surrender their sovereignty. This leaves only two, intertwined options: dissolve the Eurozone or simply have an economic zone the size of the U.S. default.
But these options, too, are dangerous. If world banks are as exposed as the BIS, and as the recent collapse of the hedge fund MF Global suggests, America’s banking system could once again collapse. Global credit markets have the potential to dissolve faster than an ice cube dropped in acid which is then dropped in lava.
The fact that no one knows how much these and other major national banking systems have in terms of total exposure only makes the trust that glues these credit institutions together even weaker. The elimination of credit, even if it is only for a few days, would be nothing short of an economic nuclear blast. Overnight, we might find that seemingly safe businesses are no longer able to manage financially, similar to events in 2009. Unemployment, just now starting to gradually fall back down, would likely explode once again.
When a nation goes to war, nearly every bureaucratic institution adjusts resources to ensure victory. And why not? Even before live T.V., the life-and-death stakes implicated for the soldiers and governments were made all too clear.
Yet, despite equally high stakes, economic warfare is waged very differently. This needs, at least in this instance, to change.
If the Eurozone dissolves, as it likely will, nations will have to be ready to step in and seize major financial institutions. Central bankers and heads of government and state cannot afford to shy away from this responsibility for fear of being labeled socialists. Governments need to prepare themselves to nationalize the Western credit market, thus finishing the job that should have been done in 2009.
The world now finds itself at a point where any wrong move could lead to nothing short of unimaginable global economic catastrophe. The Western world was even stronger in 2009, the last time we faced such a dire situation. In order to meet the danger that appears to be coming in the very near future, the West will need to summon every bit of its strength and unity to combat the greatest threat to the world order since World War II.
Editorials Editor James Sunshine is a College junior from Boca Raton, Fla.