"The idée fixe that dominates The Global Minotaur, and apparently dominated Mr Varoufakis’s squabbles with the other Eurogroup ministers of finance, is that some countries are inherently more productive than others and therefore always generate current account surpluses, while others always generate deficits, and fixed exchange rates or monetary unions only exacerbate this imbalance. Hence, for the world economy to function, the surpluses need to be recycled though a system of regular transfer payments from the core to the periphery.
Why do these imbalances emerge? According to the theory of comparative advantage as formulated by David Ricardo in the early 19th century, different countries specialise in the production of particular goods and then exchange them for others, and trade is mutually beneficial even if some countries are more efficient at producing all goods. Mr Varoufakis’s theory rejects all this. Instead, he argues, some countries are destined to specialise in the production of goods and services, while others on the periphery will forever specialise in consuming them. Put into layman’s terms, what this means is that the people of Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland produce cars, wooden clogs, or mobile phones and sell them to the people of Greece, who pay for it all with money – and to make this trade sustainable the cash needs to be regularly replenished in an endless loop by the people of Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland.This is a story we hear quite often beyond Mr. Varoufakis -- that a currency union requires countries to be similar, with similar productivity. I'm glad to see it so effectively skewered. In Ricardo's famous example, Portugal sells wine to Britain, which sells wool to Portugal, even if one is better at both than the other. They were on a common currency, gold.
On predictable US-bashing:
In Mr Varoufakis’s world the biggest villains are companies such as Walmart that exploit their efficiency to immiserate communities by making them pay less And of course the worst thing about Walmart is that it is American.
....Apparently, between the end of the war and the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1973, the Americans had a global plan, helpfully labelled ‘the global plan’, to dominate the world by permanently running current account surpluses and paying down its debt. Then this ended and was replaced by a new global plan to dominate the world by running permanent current account deficits and letting its debt soar. Devious Yanks.This last paragraph gets the golden skewer award for prose.
First, he would have all remaining government debts still owed to banks written off. Why? Well, everyone hates banks, and it is apparently a neoliberal myth that their shares are owned by pension funds, university endowments or just ordinary people saving for retirement. Banks are really owned by Bond villains who live underneath hollowed-out volcanos.
Second, a substantial part of the remaining debt – about 60 per cent of GDP – would be mutualised across the eurozone so that, whenever the spirit moved them, governments could costlessly default on their bond payments, each one safe in the knowledge that any repudiated debt would immediately become an obligation for the taxpayers in the 18 remaining countries – unless, of course, they defaulted first. This is a variation on the prisoner’s dilemma game, but on steroids.Oh, I give up, just go read the whole thing.
Then read his equally good review of Thomas Pikettty, from a year ago, which starts
Reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century from front to back was a mistake.
Better to read the last hundred pages first, with their recommendations for the confiscation of wealth and marginal income tax rates nearing 100 per cent, and then read the preceding 470 pages to decide whether the flimsy evidence, conjecture and questionable theories the author offers justify such draconian measures....