A flawed understanding of what drives economic growth has emerged as the gravest threat to recovery in Europe. European policymakers are obsessed with national “competitiveness,” and genuinely appear to think that prosperity is synonymous with trade surpluses.
In March, European leaders agreed a 'grand bargain' that was designed to restore flagging confidence in the eurozone. The deal, they hoped, would return the most troubled countries – Greece, Ireland and Portugal – to debt sustainability and prevent catastrophic contagion to other, larger economies such as Italy and Spain.
Even as the ink is drying on Portugal's European Union and International Monetary Fund bail-out agreement, evidence is mounting that last year's bail-outs of Greece and Ireland have failed. Far from improving their access to the financial markets, Greece and Ireland face record borrowing costs.
Ever since the eurozone crisis broke out in late 2009, European leaders have sought to reconcile two mutually incompatible objectives: the need to restore market confidence in the zone's indebted periphery; and the unbending refusal of creditor countries in the core to turn the zone into a 'transfer union'.