Toward the end of the year 2008, while George W. Bush was still President of the United States, the Real Estate Bubble exploded in the U.S. causing phenomenal economic misery throughout that nation and, on a slightly lesser level, throughout the Industrial World. Many of the major European banks and many European citizens had purchased and held onto Hedge Fund Real-Estate bonds that now became worthless or nearly worthless. In essence the entire civilized world took a downward economic fall. This included for both banks and many individuals, particularly in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Iceland and Italy. In fact the three major banking houses in Iceland all went bankrupt. Some nations fared better than others but all were hit to some extent.
The real estate hedge fund sales, dividing up mortgages into microscopic parts, selling them through numerous hedge funds, and continually driving up real estate values, had been going on for over thirty years. The process had existed through the entire careers of many bankers and investors. It had been a traditional safe hedge or investment which paid reasonable dividends. Suddenly all this ended with trillions of dollars’ worth of bonds being virtually worthless.
The Federal Reserve tends to supervise the United States and the European Central Bank controls the Eurozone. They can add or subtract money from within their domains. Unfortunately this process can work toward solving economic problems but within a relatively slow period of time.
Economics tends to be a loose science that seemingly becomes better understood as time and situations happen. Economic recovery is a gradual process and the FED or ECB does not have total control of the tools of recovery. In the case of the United States the legislators, whether they understand it or not, control fiscal policy and by some of the laws they pass can hinder or aid recovery . In the case of the ECB there are 19 separate nations, with separate histories, languages, and a sense of nationalism, that have agreed to cooperate together with a single currency, for the mutual benefit of all of them.
Some of these 19 nations are currently in a dire economic condition with high unemployment and heavy debts exceeding their GDP and undergoing extreme austerity as they attempt to pay off their killing loans to those members who have supported the bailouts of their economies. Greece, for example currently is the worst off of all the nations in the Eurozone. She has 25% unemployment, has been bailed out at least twice by the ECB and is needing another loan in order to not go bankrupt.
In addition the agencies within each country that control the currency flow, and can increase or decrease it by their actions, are the banks within each nation. These operate separately and for profit. Under both the Federal Reserve and the ECB the interest they can charge is largely controlled. They, however, until the end of 2008, were the instruments that filled the void where the societies needed freer flowing cash. They did this for three decades and finally continued forcing the process in such a way as to bring about the recessions of 2009 throughout most industrial nations.
In the United States the Federal Reserve, despite the actions of the Republican led House of Representatives whose policies tended from 2011 on to shrink the size of the Federal and State Governments creating even more unemployment, was able by creative Monetary Policy to work toward improving economic conditions within the country
The Federal Reserve largely solved this problem for the United States by both adding money at the rate of 40 billion dollars a month to their economy and by buying up 45 billion dollars a month’s worth of mortgage paper. Without ever announcing what they were doing the Fed forgave the mortgage holders their property debts. This, in turn, added much of this money to the cash flow as it was spent on new productivity rather than retiring debt.
The European Central Bank is currently facing a similar problem; they are currently facing the beginnings of deflation. Their GDP is actually decreasing while their population is increasing. The ECB’s immediate solution for all 19 nations in the Eurozone is to add 60 billion euros to the overall economies every month until September 2016. This is a giant economic stimulus plan that will hopefully boost the sagging economies and fend off deflation bringing about recovery.
Will this help countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy who are currently following intense austerity programs in order to pay back their debts to other Eurozone countries? This is an interesting question? These nations have been directly aided by the ECB. At different levels they are undergoing stringent living in order to pay off individual and government debt. Will the people in these states continually be willing to undergo a lower standard of living than the rest of the Eurozone?
Greece, which is probably in the worst shape of all of these countries, has voted No in its last election. Their new government, with the support of the bulk of their population, is currently attempting to negotiate an easing off or forgiveness of some or all of the debt. Will they succeed?
If the negotiations break down and nothing is resolved then Greece will be forced to leave the Eurozone and probably, sooner or later, declare bankruptcy and the ECB will collect nothing. If the ECB attempts to force payments from Greece, who currently needs a further bailout of a billion or more euros and attempts to make the repayment even more stringent than its current state, then the Greeks will be forced to withdraw from the Eurozone. If a compromise is reached then, at least, part of the debt will have to be forgiven.
If that happens then the other countries that are in extreme debt to the Eurozone will also want and expect their debts to be modified. Spain, for example, has an extreme left party that will be running in the next election on a platform of ending stringent living in Spain.
There are certain factors we should keep in mind. Up to the 2008 Crash virtually all the banking houses were encouraging all the people and governments to borrow money. Times were good and could only get better was the popular belief. Not all the nations within the Eurozone took this up; some were much more conservative in their borrowing and spending habits than others. Five or six within the Eurozone did take it up and carried the borrowing as far as they could. There was a similar situation within the United States and in some of the other industrial nations.
It should also be remembered that money is no longer gold coins. That ended in the 1930s. Today money is paper which is used as a means of exchange and has nothing behind it except the word of the government that prints it. Also that the amount in circulation is determined by the particular government or the ECB or in the case of the United States by the Federal Reserve.
The amount is arbitrary and can be increased or decreased at any time. The Federal Reserve forgave many of its debtors and the country now seems to be rapidly moving toward recovery. The ECB needs to rethink its position. Many of its members still have the fixation that money is gold or that those who had been living freely through 2008 must pay their debts. It is time for these people to mentally enter the 21st Century and ask themselves what is best for all of its members. After all, Europe is probably one of the major industrial centers of the world and cash or money serves only as a means of exchange. Punishing the people of a country for careless living which was encouraged by the financial institutions does not solve major economic problems. It can, if fact, exacerbate them so that everyone will economically suffer.
In the United States a goodly percentage of the homeowners in 2008 ended up owing more on their properties than they were worth. The Federal Reserve forgave many of them what they owed. It never admitted that it did this. If it had there might have been a hue and cry against this action. If that had happened the U.S. would probably still be in a deep recession or another Great Depression.
This is a strange issue. Given a choice, what would the American people have chosen? Allowing a large number of people undeservedly to be forgiven their debts and see the country head in the direction of a return to prosperity or fair and equal treatment of everyone and a major depression.
This is actually the problem the Eurozone is facing now. Currently the Greek government is negotiating to either reduce or be forgiven its debts. Germany and France want it to pay its debts. After all, they have to be punished for overspending prior to 2009.
Is the issue economic justice or a solid return to prosperity for all the nations in the Eurozone? Which is more important to see immediate justice or deal with what is best for all the nations within the Eurozone? An interesting question!
Fortunately the Federal Reserve in the United States was able to act surreptitiously. The European Central Bank does not have that option. The only realistic action it can take is to partially forgive the loan in the present and eventually drop it completely. If it does this, combined with the stimulus the Eurozone will once again reach a high level of prosperity. If the ECB demands the full return of what is currently owed in order to negotiate a further stimulus, that is, equal fairness for every country; then these nineteen countries face a hard economic future.
On Friday, February 20, 2015 at a negotiating meeting of Eurozone finance ministers a compromise was reached giving Greece four more months on its bailout. One result of this temporary compromise sent the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 to new highs. The Euro resounded to $114 and Germany’s DAX index closed at a record high.
Depending upon the actions of ECB in June the situation could be back to where it was a week before the temporary compromise. By then it should be obvious to everyone involved that rigid enforcement of the original agreement would have strong adverse effects upon all the nations involved. What will happen will depend upon the ability of all these people to define the best common goal for all of the Eurozone.