EuroZone jobless rate hits new high

It’s not just the US, which is a point that Barack Obama will likely seize in the same manner a drowning man clings (bitterly?) to a life preserver in a storm-tossed ocean.  The EuroZone hit a 17-year high unemployment rate this spring at 11%, and the rate in the larger European Union rose to 10.3%:

The jobless rate in the 17-nation euro zone reached 11 percent in March and April, the highest since the start of the data in 1995, Eurostat, the European statistical agency said in Luxembourg. The previous record had been 10.9 percent in February, Eurostat said, after it revised March’s figure upward from the 10.9 percent initially estimated.

“We have an economy that’s freezing up, it’s clearly not creating jobs,” Peter Dixon, global equities economist at Commerzbank in London, said. “But right now policy makers’ main concern is to ensure that the peripheral countries’ governments and banks can stay afloat. Given that, the real economic data is taking a back seat.”

But before long, he said, unemployment “is going to be a major problem for those countries,” as it rises to the top of the political agenda and further complicates the financial problems.

For the overall European Union, made up of 27 nations, the jobless rate was 10.3 percent in April, up from 10.2 percent in March. Spain’s jobless rate, of 24.3 percent, was again the highest in the European Union, while Austria’s, at 3.9 percent, was the lowest.

On one hand, Obama can rightly claim that some of the economic problems in the US are linked to Europe’s own economic issues, especially the debt and currency crises that have roiled the Continent for the last few years.  Of course, the Obama administration can’t claim to have been surprised by those problems, and may have trouble explaining any of their actions as a bulwark against European turbulence.  Given the nature of global commerce, though, the US government has only limited options for building firewalls against a contagion in the free markets.

Among those options, though, would be to streamline regulation, reduce government deficit spending to allow for more private lending, and reforming the tax system to provide more long-term clarity.  The Obama administration has done none of these, and in most cases worked in the opposite direction.  The same is true for the EuroZone, which now wants to go on another stimulus bender rather than take the hit and reduce government spending before the whole debt edifice collapses altogether.  Europe and the US have similar problems because we have followed similar policies, even and especially over the last few years when the debt crisis became impossible to ignore.

Massive stimulus spending and rapid increases in regulatory regimes do not produce a stable job-creation environment, which we have now seen in both hemispheres.  It’s time to try something new … like responsible stewardship of the public sector and greater stability in taxes and regulations for the private sector.

In Europe, they see the acute problem as a lack of central authority to do anything:

U.S. and European officials, who just weeks ago seemed to be getting a handle on the euro zone’s financial crisis, are now scrambling to prevent a new round of problems from pulling down some of Europe’s largest economies.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned in Brussels on Thursday that he considered the euro zone’s current structure “unsustainable,” and said the region’s governments must surrender far more budget and regulatory power to a central authority if the currency union is to be saved. …

In recent weeks, European officials, the International Monetary Fund and others have urged that an existing European bailout fund be used to pump money directly into Spanish banks. At the moment, the Spanish government would have to borrow money to bail out the banks, and this would increase its own debt, aggravating concerns about Spain’s financial health.

German officials are opposed to providing the bailout fund with the flexibility to help banks directly.

In Brussels on Thursday, Mario Monti, Italy’s prime minister, said Germany was putting the goal of a more integrated Europe at risk by its “lack of promptness” in accepting the change.

Draghi, a critical voice in the discussion as head of the central bank used by the 17 nations, said Europe needed to do more to back its banking system. At the same time, he criticized the slow response of Spanish officials in dealing with their banking crisis.

As I wrote earlier this week, that’s always been the central problem with the EuroZone and its shared currency.  Either Europe needs to integrate into one sovereign nation so that Greece and Spain can’t game the system without Germans having some say in those policies, or the separate nations need to return to separate currencies.  The political/debt crises are the inevitable outcome of shared currencies with separate economic approaches.

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