The dispersion across European nations in terms of growth and unemployment (as we noted earlier) are just two indications of the dramatic amount of economic hubris, as JP Morgan's Michael Cembalest describes it, associated with the belief in a sustainable European monetary union. Using the World Economic Forum's multitude of competitive factors (across economic, social, and political characteristics), the JPM CIO notes that compared to hypothetical and actual monetary unions in the world that the EMU exhibits the largest differences between member nations of any (current or historical), and still Europe soldiers on. "Countries in the European Monetary Union are more different than just about any other monetary union you could imagine" so it’s hard to know how it will turn out. It’s a tough road, and this data helps explain why. Europe’s problem is not just one of public sector deficit spending differences, but also of deeper, more fundamental differences across its various private sector economies. Whether it’s equities, credit or real estate, EMU valuations need to be considerably more attractive than US counterparts to justify investment given the challenges of the European project.
As we wait for the next round of fiscal transfers from North to South, European Central Bank rescue operations, IMF firewall expansions, foreign capital flight, deferral of tighter bank capital standards, elections, Bundesbank resignations, protests, rising unemployment and generally miserable economic data in the European Periphery, it’s worth remembering something broader about what Europe is up to - with countries in the European Monetary Union more different than just about any other monetary union you could imagine:
What does this chart show?
- The best way I know of to compare countries is via the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report. This compilation rates 142 countries on over 100 factors related to labor and goods market efficiency; government institutions (property rights, corruption); macroeconomic soundness (debt, deficits); health and education; business sophistication (local supplier quality/quantity); and capacity for innovation (quality of scientific research institutions, R&D spend, patent grants).
- Using this raw data, I imagined what other monetary unions might exist, and how different their constituents would be. The chart shows the country dispersion for hypothetical unions comprised of the UK and its English-speaking offshoots (US, Can, Australia, Ire, NZ); and of countries in Central America, Latin America, the Gulf, Northern Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia (see Appendix for details). All of these hypothetical monetary unions have lower country dispersion measures than the European Monetary Union. And yet, these regions have resisted the temptation to form one.
- I even reconstituted the old Soviet Union by combining the Russian Federation with 11 former republics, and the Ottoman Empire, by combining 25 countries which now inhabit its 18th century borders. I also added a random monetary union comprised of the 12 countries on Earth located at the latitude of the 5th parallel (north), and another union comprised of the 13 countries on Earth whose names start with the letter “M”. Even these groupings exhibited less dispersion than the EMU.
And still, Europe soldiers on, even as the rest of the world avoids monetary union in circumstances more favorable to it. What remains are political questions regarding how much inflation and fiscal transfer Germany can sustain; if a true fiscal union can be created, seen by some as indispensable to the Euro’s future; and how much austerity countries like Spain can take.