Spain Is Not Too Big to Save

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The Planet Money segment of Morning Edition wrongly told listeners on Friday that Spain might be too big to save, implying that the country is too large for the European Central Bank (ECB) to cover its debts. This is not true.

The ECB, with the approval of the European Union, could easily cover the debts of Spain and any other country for the simple reason, to take Ben Bernanke's line, that it has a printing press. It is possible that the ECB will opt not to save Spain, either because of concerns about inflation or simply out of a desire to teach Spain a lesson (i.e. it was stupid to join the euro) but this would be a choice. Spain could be saved if the euro zone countries want to save it.

It is also worth noting that Spain may well be better off if it is not saved. Its unemployment rate is currently over 20 percent. The austerity being demanded by the euro zone countries will prevent the unemployment rate from declining any time soon. By contrast, if Spain were to default on its debt and leave the euro it would be immediately be free to take steps to boost growth and employment. This could lead to a sharp turnaround and a rapid move back toward full employment.

This is exactly what happened in Argentina. It had a sharp 6-month plunge after its December 2001 default, but then had 7 years of solid growth until the world economic crisis in 2008 brought Argentina's economy to a near standstill.