Alex Massie

Blaiming the Euro for Irish Woes

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On the other hand, Philippe Legrain makes the case that too much blame is being apportioned (perhaps opportunistically) to the euro and not enough is being fixed to the Irish government:

The problem is not that savings flowed from Germany to Europe’s periphery. It is that they funded property bubbles rather than productive investment. But the blame for that lies with herd-like investors, flawed banks and foolish governments, not the euro. After all, America, Britain, Iceland and other non-euro countries all had huge property bubbles too.

Granted, joining the euro did slash Irish interest rates, creating cheap borrowing that fuelled the boom. But at a macro level the Irish government could have tightened fiscal policy – in effect, run large budget surpluses. At a micro level, it could also have limited banks’ property lending – through higher, counter-cyclical capital requirements for instance – rather than encouraging it with tax breaks.

[...] The government’s fatal mistake was stepping in to guarantee not just all the depositors of Irish banks but also all their bondholders. Now the bust banks’ huge losses are dragging down the Irish state with them. Had Britain’s recession worsened, the UK government might have ended up in a similar situation.

Only cheap finance from the European Central Bank has kept those bust Irish banks on life-support, until now. Outside the euro, Ireland would doubtless have suffered Iceland’s fate: its currency would have crashed and its central bank would have run short of foreign funds to keep its banks afloat. Far from precipitating the crisis, the euro has given Ireland vital breathing space. More’s the pity that the government has failed to make good use of it.

Whole thing here. There's clearly something, perhaps even quite a lot, to this. But membership of the euro also exacerbated some of the costs and consequences of Irish mistakes, not least by creating a false sense of impregnability. As tends to be the case, no single thing explains or causes this kind of crisis and just as there's no one poison dart so there's no single magic pill that can cure the patient.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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