October 28 2011

Putting Lipstick on the European Pig

Carrie L. Lukas

Stocks soared yesterday on news that the European Union had reached an agreement on how to handle Greece's continued debt problems (which Robert Samuelson explains is effectively a default, even if no one wants to use that term), and provide some infrastructure for deterring similar meltdowns in other at-risk countries such as Italy, Spain, and Ireland.

I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a true turn around and an end to the debt-crisis in Europe. The measures they are taking—forcing to banks to “volunteer” to take big losses on Greek bonds and increasing the funds available as a back-stop to other indebted countries to reassure creditors and prevent interest rates from spiking, which would worsen their finances—seem reasonable and likely to help.

Yet it's hard to imagine that this is really the end to Europe's debt woes.

The problem, after all, isn't just that Greece, or even a handful of European countries, have accidentally slipped up, and borrowed and spent more that they can afford. The core problem is in the European model itself. Government has promised way too generous benefits to way too many people and they simply don't have the tax-base to make good on those promises. They could wipe out today's debts and the problems would begin again tomorrow, unless real reforms are made to the government entitlement programs and public-worker systems that are at the root of the problem.

Americans should be watching Europe closely. For decades politicians have been warning that programs like our Social Security and Medicare systems are on the road to financial ruin and could sink the economy.  We can see today (Social Security is already running a deficit) that this is indeed a slow-motion wreck in action.

What we know from Europe is that it only gets harder and more painful to make needed changes. We shouldn't wait for our problems to become a crisis. After all, as Mark Steyn has written, there is no one who can or will bail out the United States.

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