I spent the afternoon at a great Memorial Day barbecue out in the country. One of the guests is an American who lives in Europe, and whose husband is an economist. We talked briefly about the situation with the euro; she is very, very pessimistic about what’s to come.

I thought about the post-euro “survivor’s guide” that Simon Johnson and Peter Boone have just published. Excerpt:

A disorderly break-up of the euro area will be far more damaging to global financial markets than the crisis of 2008. In fall 2008 the decision was whether or how governments should provide a back-stop to big banks and the creditors to those banks. Now some European governments face insolvency themselves. The European economy accounts for almost 1/3 of world GDP. Total euro sovereign debt outstanding comprises about $11 trillion, of which at least $4 trillion must be regarded as a near term risk for restructuring.

Europe’s rich capital markets and banking system, including the market for 185 trillion dollars in outstanding euro-denominated derivative contracts, will be in turmoil and there will be large scale capital flight out of Europe into the United States and Asia. Who can be confident that our global megabanks are truly ready to withstand the likely losses? It is almost certain that large numbers of pensioners and households will find their savings are wiped out directly or inflation erodes what they saved all their lives. The potential for political turmoil and human hardship is staggering.

For the last three years Europe’s politicians have promised to “do whatever it takes” to save the euro. It is now clear that this promise is beyond their capacity to keep — because it requires steps that are unacceptable to their electorates. No one knows for sure how long they can delay the complete collapse of the euro, perhaps months or even several more years, but we are moving steadily to an ugly end.

Johnson & Boone contend that the euro simply cannot be saved at this point. More:

Forget about a rescue in the form of the G20, the G8, the G7, a new European Union Treasury, the issue of Eurobonds, a large scale debt mutualisation scheme, or any other bedtime story.  We are each on our own.

 

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