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Economic Outlook: A Spanish solution

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International   |   June 7, 2012 at 9:44 AM
Here's a twist: Spain, in some ways, feels it is in the driver's seat while negotiating for international help before its banking system collapses.

This is new for Europe. Greece, Ireland and Portugal each accepted international assistance, generally termed a bailout, from three heavyweight operations, the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known collectively as the troika.

To receive the bailouts, each of the struggling countries accepted a list of fiscal targets. In Greece, especially, the terms of the deal essentially gutted the government's budget.

Spain is now tiptoeing around the word "bailout." They don't want a "bailout" given directly to the government if that means they will have to give up their government's role of economic guidance.

For Greece, the bailout concept was simple: Don't loan money to a country that is going to fritter it away on continued bad habits.

But Spain is not Greece, where government spending was considered overly generous and tax collecting was seen as ineffective.

In Spain, government debt is at a smaller percentage of its gross domestic product than government debt is in Germany, the country behind the push for fiscal discipline across the continent. This leaves Germany with a bit less leverage on the matter.

Furthermore, slashing government spending has a variety of effects beyond those on paper and this has been proven repeatedly. Every time the Greek parliament sold a valuable asset or, under extreme duress, cut social programs, the fiscal targets imposed by the troika moved father away, instead of closer, because the cuts in spending were gutting the country's ability to put its economy back on its feet.

For all the good the bailouts have done for Athens, the government there has still had to slash dividends owed to creditors and decimate social programs. Its economy is now expected to contract more than 6 percent in 2012. Is anyone calling this a terrific success story?

There have been enormous shortcomings in the efforts to put the U.S. economy back on its feet, but here's what Washington did right: They honed in on the problem, which was a crumbling financial system, and, like it or not, quickly put the country's banks back on their feet. This did little for jobs. This did little for taming oil consumption. This did little to help the economy face major challenges. But it succeeded in saving banks.

The rescue of Greece has done none of the above. It has also failed to accomplished its primary goal, which is to keep the Greek government from default. In point of fact, while the word "default" is hiding behind the semantics of "voluntary losses" in Greece. Strong political challengers are threatening to default on the terms of their international loans. After the June 17 elections, the word default may come out of the closet, but that depends on election results.

Spain is seeking help that goes directly to its banks, while its government is left to deal with its economy on its own. This would allow Europe to cross at least one item off the list of Spain's long list of problems.

In international markets Thursday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 1.24 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China slipped 0.71 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gained 0.85 percent, while the Sensex in India climbed 1.18 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia added 1.31 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain rose 1.51 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany gained 1.61 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 1.08 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 1.4 percent.

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