UK would have fared better inside the eurozone

giugno 24, 2015

Pubblicato In: Articoli Correlati

articolo collegato di Martin Sandbu

The referendum on UK membership of the EU is still some time off but the rhetorical attacks have begun, calling out those who wanted Britain to join the euro, most of whom have retracted their support or tried to forget it. Eurosceptics do not intend to let them get away with it. If you were so misguided as to have supported the euro then, they argue, surely we cannot take seriously your argument for continued EU membership today.
So, even if euro membership for the UK is not on the agenda, it is important to revisit the case. And the sceptics’ argument is unfounded: there is a good case to make that Britain would have fared better in the crisis inside the single currency than it did outside.
The eurozone’s terrible economic performance weighed heavily on Britain, dashing hopes of a recovery led by investment and exports. It happened because European leaders failed to pursue the best policies — in particular, their failure to end the credit crunch and loosen monetary conditions sooner, and their choice to push austerity even in economies with ample fiscal space.
The important question, therefore, is how the UK would have changed the eurozone’s policies from the inside. The answer is: in ways that would have brought growth back faster.
Take monetary policy first. The Bank of England would be a heavyweight inside the euro, and not just on account of its economy’s size. The BoE’s intellectual pole position on monetary matters and its feel for financial markets, honed by centuries in the middle of the City of London, would have made it a leader within the European Central Bank.
How would that influence have been used? The BoE understood the need for extraordinarily aggressive policy much better than its counterpart in Frankfurt. In October 2008, the ECB raised rates while the BoE embarked on a loosening that cut rates by four percentage points in less than six months. It has kept them at 0.5 per cent since March 2009, the month in which it launched an asset purchase programme that has accumulated government bonds worth a fifth of annual national income.
In contrast, the ECB raised rates twice in 2011, which helped throw the eurozone back into recession with knock-on effects on UK growth. And it took Frankfurt six years to follow Threadneedle Street’s lead on asset purchases.
Britain’s central bankers would have fought for similarly aggressive policies on the ECB’s executive board. Indeed the country’s huge, wobbly banking sector would have left them — and the rest of the ECB ­— with no other choice. (Even outside the euro, UK banks have trillions of liabilities denominated in euros, which the BoE could not have printed in the case of a run. Within the euro, that would have been the ECB’s problem.) One of the euro’s largest economies could not have been bullied the way smaller countries at risk were treated.
We cannot know how successful they would have been, but it is clear eurozone monetary policy would have tilted in a more pro-growth direction, and one that more confidently stabilised financial markets. Had the ECB started a broad bond-buying programme in early 2009, before the sovereign debt crisis was on the horizon, yields might never have spun out of control as they did.
What about fiscal policy? George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, can seem more fiscally conservative than Germany. But his original economic plan relied on eurozone demand for UK exports picking up the slack left by brutal deficit consolidation. From his perspective, the optimal policy would have been rapid cuts for high-deficit countries but compensatory stimulus in those with room to do so. That implies resisting Germany’s push for deficit cuts by all. This could have spared the eurozone a second downturn and shortened the UK’s patch of stagnation.
So in the fiscal sphere, too, British euro membership would have tilted policy in the direction of growth. And the influence could have been substantial. Recall Prime Minister David Cameron’s “veto” of the contractionary fiscal compact. In the event it was no veto: Germany pressed ahead, via an intergovernmental treaty committing 26 states to balanced budgets. But its intent was always to change fiscal policy for the currency union as a whole. One eurozone member could have stopped it.
To deny that British euro membership would have made the crisis better for all is to ignore the difference the UK would have made. Perhaps this is credible if one thinks Britain is as mismanaged at home and ineffectual abroad as Italy. But that is a strange view to take for those who believe Britain is so much more capable than its neighbours that it is better off outside their team.

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