The ECB’s Lethal Inhibition

12-Apr (Project Syndicate) — Last December, with Europe’s financial system on the brink of disaster, the European Central Bank stunned the markets with an unprecedented intervention, offering banks across the eurozone essentially unlimited liquidity against any and all collateral for an exceptional period of three years.

The ECB’s surprise liquidity operation put the continent’s crisis on hold. But now, just fourth months later, matters are again coming to a head. The big southern European countries, Spain and Italy, battered by austerity, are spiraling into recession. The deterioration of economic conditions is casting doubt on their governments’ budgetary arithmetic, undermining political support for structural reform, and reopening seemingly closed questions about the stability of banking systems.

Once again, the eurozone appears to be on the verge of unraveling. So, will it be once more into the breach for the ECB?

…With governments hesitating to do their part, the ECB is reluctant to support them. In its view, rewarding them with monetary stimulus – keeping the boat afloat with more spending – only relieves the pressure on national officials to do what is necessary.

If this is the ECB’s thinking, then it is playing a dangerous game. Without spending and growth, there can be no solution to Europe’s problems.

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