Matthew Yglesias is a American commentator of impeccably liberal credentials. However, he’s come in for some stick after commending the French National Front for its opposition to the European single currency.
This was by no means a general endorsement for Marine Le Pen’s party – as he made clear in his article for Vox:
“There’s some nuttiness and extremism in there, some banal stuff, and some unlikely-to-work populism. But there are also some excellent points about the fundamental architecture of European economic policy. Points that Europe’s mainstream leaders have spent years avoiding, even as they’ve tried harder and harder to cope with the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and political movements. The focus on what’s abhorrent about the Front and similar parties is understandable and important.”
He might have done better to commend the British Conservative Party for its longstanding and prescient opposition to the single currency, but in focusing on the National Front he makes an important point:
“Voters are turning to extreme parties because the mainstream parties have blundered into a years-long economic fiasco and they have no plan to end it.”
Because they’re not slaves to EU ideology, American liberals can’t help but notice the deeply regressive consequences of European economic policy. For instance, here’s the economist Joseph Stiglitz in a piece for Project Syndicate:
“In most European Union countries, per capita GDP is less than it was before the crisis. A lost half-decade is quickly turning into a whole one. Behind the cold statistics, lives are being ruined, dreams are being dashed, and families are falling apart (or not being formed) as stagnation – depression in some places – runs on year after year.”
British Eurosceptics sometime describe Britain’s economic relationship with Europe as being “shackled to a corpse”. This is an exaggeration. The European economy isn’t dead; rather, it is being slowly poisoned by its own bankers, bureaucrats and politicians:
“The EU’s malaise is self-inflicted, owing to an unprecedented succession of bad economic decisions, beginning with the creation of the euro. Though intended to unite Europe, in the end the euro has divided it; and, in the absence of the political will to create the institutions that would enable a single currency to work, the damage is not being undone.”
Stiglitz, like other American liberals, puts the blame much more on austerity than the failure to enact structural reforms. Contentiously, he argues that the structural problems were “apparent in the years before the crisis, and they were not stopping growth then” – to which the obvious response is that growth was being propped up by massive and reckless borrowing, especially in the Eurozone’s periphery.
Nevertheless, we can all agree that the single currency creates the conditions that allow – or require – the wrong policies to be implemented at the wrong time in the wrong places.
Stiglitz, like Yglesias, is also right to point out that a crisis of economics is turning into a crisis of democracy:
“…the euro took away from citizens – especially in the crisis countries – any say over their economic destiny. Repeatedly, voters have thrown out incumbents, dissatisfied with the direction of the economy – only to have the new government continue on the same course dictated from Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin.”
European liberals clearly don’t listen to British eurosceptics – but surely they ought to listen to their trans-Atlantic comrades, with whom they share many of the same values. It might even help if British europhiles, stunned into silence by the Eurozone crisis, were to stand-up, admit their mistakes and implore their Continental counterparts to do likewise.
Perhaps Nick Clegg could lead a delegation.