In 2010, a pair of Harvard economists published a paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt” that concluded that countries with a debt exceeding 90% of their annual GDP experienced slower growth than their thriftier peers. It was a statistic to which pro-austerity policymakers could cling and Germany, with a “never again” attitude towards Weimar Republic era hyperinflation, got much of Europe to sign-off on austerity to obtain bail-out funds.
However, biggest problem with austerity is that it can potentially kick-off a deflationary spiral that might actually increase indebtedness. And the latest euro-zone stat is proof of that: In the euro area the government debt to GDP ratio increased from 87.3% at the end of 2011 to 90.6% at the end of 2012. Besides, how is growth going to come about if both the public and private sectors contract at the same time?
The latest manufacturing PMI numbers are showing that the slow-down has now spread to the “core” Euro-zone economies. “The renewed decline in Germany will also raise fears that the region’s largest growth engine has moved into reverse, thereby acting as a drag on the region at the same time as particularly steep downturns persist in France, Italy and Spain.”
Bill Gross, of PIMCO fame, who had once warned that UK debt levels were too high, leaving gilts “resting on a bed of nitroglycerine” has recently changed his tune: “The UK and almost all of Europe have erred in terms of believing that austerity, fiscal austerity in the short term, is the way to produce real growth. It is not. You’ve got to spend money.”
And last week, Reinhart and Rogoff’s most famous finding has been debunked by a 28-year-old student. Earlier this month, Thomas Herndon, a graduate in the economics department at Amherst College in Massachusetts, found that they had made fundamental mathematical errors in the study – and all because of a flubbed Excel spreadsheet.
Will Europe’s policy makers change their stance and resort to a looser monetary policy and ease up on the austerity principle? Markets in europe (London +1.88%, Germany +2.23%, France +3.14%) started rallying as soon as the dismal PMI numbers came in – at least they seem to believe that the liquidity spigot is soon going to be let loose.