Obama Pressures the Wrong People
It's about time; the president has finally demanded action on the fiscal situation. Monday he called on officials to move quickly to resolve the sovereign debt crisis that is threatening the American economy.
Oh. Just a second. That was the European debt crisis; those were European officials. He told them to get tough, by golly. He has an election coming up, and their variously troubled economies are hurting his chances here at home.
I'm sure his input was appreciated; it has been so effective domestically.
It seems that the president has been in regular telephone contact with Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders. When do you suppose was the last time he rang up John Boehner or Paul Ryan?
It's a good thing, I guess, that Mr. Obama appreciates the interconnectedness of our globalizing, um ... globe, and that he's trying to bring a bit of his signature hope and change to our European friends, but I'd be surprised if his efforts alter the pace or direction of wherever the Europeans are headed.
They seem so far to be doing quite badly enough on their own without American assistance. How do you think our administration would respond to an economics lecture from M. Sarkozy?
It looks like our two economies are locked in a desperate race to the bottom, and, ironically, it may be the one that gets there first that is the winner. As we are dawdling along until the next election, spewing vitriol and unkeepable promises, Europe is headed very quickly toward what may be the actual, inevitable, unavoidable conclusion to the past two years of can-kicking.
This past week, the EU finance ministers met in Brussels in preparation for an EU summit on Dec. 9. While much of the usual political boilerplate was in evidence, there were serious murmurs about individual countries ceding some degree of sovereignty to a United States of Europe in exchange for backing of the weaker countries' debt by the stronger ones, i.e., Germany. Who knows? Something might happen.
In what must be one of the most ironic historical flip-flops ever, the Polish foreign minister said Monday, "I will probably be the first Polish minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity. You have become Europe's indispensable nation." That rumbling sound is Winston Churchill spinning in his grave.
The Germans are less than excited about the idea of bailing out their poorer neighbors, but the alternatives look worse daily. Economists mutter about European bank failures, global depression, greater unemployment and riots. Economists' track records are spotty at best, but still worth some consideration in a case as obvious as this.
So, suppose Europe undergoes some dramatic restructuring, issues a Eurobond that is salable at a favorable rate, and at least creates the appearance of unity. Where does that leave us?
The shoe, a nice Italian-made one, no doubt, might be on the other foot. Those Eurobonds may look more attractive to investors than our treasuries, European stock markets may strengthen, and our inability to adopt measures even as stringent as Europe's could leave us the weakest giant economy in the world.
Maybe it will take more municipal bankruptcies and Occupiers of Places to bring us to where Europe is apparently headed, but it would sure be nice if we could do something now. It seems unlikely that our politicians could be any more factionalized than those in Europe, and, unlike Europe, we already have one person designated to inspire and lead us: He is called the president of the United States.
How about it, Mr. President? How about showing at least as much interest in resolving our fiscal mess as you do in Europe's? Instead of badgering European ministers to get their act together, why not beat them to the punch? How about badgering your own people, as well as those nasty Republicans, to do something before the election, or is keeping everybody riled up more suited to your political purposes?
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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