Greece and the euro
The euro is still vulnerable, and Greece is not the only problem
IT WAS almost exactly five years ago that the euro crisis erupted, starting in Greece. Investors who had complacently let all euro-zone countries borrow at uniformly low levels abruptly woke up to the riskiness of an incompetent government borrowing money in a currency which it could not depreciate. There is thus a dismal symmetry in seeing the euro crisis flare up again in the place where it began.
The proximate cause of the latest outbreak of nerves was the decision by the Greek government, now headed by the generally competent Antonis Samaras, to advance the presidential election to later this month. The presidency is largely ceremonial, but if Mr Samaras cannot win enough votes in parliament for his candidate, Stavros Dimas, a general election will follow. Polls suggest the winner would be Syriza, a populist party led by Alexis Tsipras. Although Mr Tsipras professes that he does not want to leave the euro, he is making promises to voters on public spending and taxes that may make it hard for Greece to stay. Hence the markets' sudden pessimism.
导致投资者精神突然紧张的直接原因是希腊政府的决定。现任希腊领导人Antonis Samaras相对还比较有能力，他将在本月晚些时候提前进行总统选举。本次选举基本上是仪式性的，但如果Samaras 不能在议会为其接班人Stavros Dimas 赢得足够多的选票，接下来还会进行一次普选。民意调查显示，由Alexis Tsipras 领导的民粹主义政党左翼联盟将会赢得普选。尽管Tsipras 表示他不会支持希腊脱离欧元区，但他在公开场合向选民做出的关于公共支出和税收的承诺会令希腊很难留在欧元区。因此市场突然悲观情绪弥漫。
As it happens, there is a good chance that Mr Dimas, a former EU commissioner, will win the presidential vote at the end of this month (see article). But the latest Aegean tragicomedy is a timely reminder both of how unreformed the euro zone still is and of the dangers lurking in its politics.
It is true that, ever since the pledge by the European Central Bank's president, Mario Draghi in July 2012 to “do whatever it takes” to save the euro, fears that the single currency might break up have dissipated. Much has been done to repair the euro's architecture, ranging from the establishment of a bail-out fund to the start of a banking union. And economic growth across the euro zone is slowly returning, however anaemically, even to Greece and other bailed-out countries.
现实是，自从2012 年7 月欧洲央行主席Mario Draghi 发誓要不惜一切代价拯救欧元之后，人们对于单一货币可能会崩溃的担忧消除了。为了修复欧元的组织结构人们做了很多工作，从建立应急储备基金到开始统一银行业。欧元区国家的经济，即使是希腊和其他获得援助的国家，也在缓慢增长。
But is that good enough? Even if the immediate threat of break-up has receded, the longer-term threat to the single currency has, if anything, increased. The euro zone seems to be trapped in a cycle of slow growth, high unemployment and dangerously low inflation. Mr Draghi would like to respond to this with full-blown quantitative easing, but he is running into fierce opposition from German and other like-minded ECB council members (see article). Fiscal expansion is similarly blocked by Germany's unyielding insistence on strict budgetary discipline. And forcing structural reforms through the two sickliest core euro countries, Italy and France, remains an agonisingly slow business.
Japan is reckoned to have had two“lost decades”; but in the past 20 years it grew by almost 0.9% a year. The euro zone, whose economy has not grown since the crisis, is showing no sign of dragging itself out of its slump. And Japan's political set-up is far more manageable than Europe's. It is a single political entity with a cohesive society; the euro zone consists of 18 separate countries, each with a different political landscape. It is hard to imagine it living through a decade even more dismal than Japan's without some political upheaval.
日本被认为已经经历了“失去的二十年”，但是在过去的20 年中，日本基本保持了0.9%的年增长率。欧元区的经济自从危机之后就没有增长，且没有任何迹象表明其有能力拜托这一困局。而且日本的政治体系也比欧洲更易管控。这是一个拥有单一政治实体的有凝聚力的社会;而欧元区有18 个国家，每个都有不同的政治面貌。很难想象如果没有一场政治巨变，欧元区能撑过一个比日本更悲催的十年。
Greece is hardly alone in having angry voters. Portugal and Spain both have elections next year, in which parties that are fiercely against excessive austerity are likely to do well. In Italy three of the four biggest parties, Forza Italia, the Northern League and Beppe Grillo's Five Star movement, are turning against euro membership. France's anti-European National Front continues to climb in the opinion polls. Even Germany has a rising populist party that is against the euro.
希腊不是唯一一个有着愤怒选民的国家。葡萄牙和西班牙明年都将举行选举，那些反对过度节俭政策的政党们更有可能胜出。意大利四大政党中的三个：意大利前进党、北方联盟和Beppe Grillo 领导的五星运动党，都反对意大利继续成为欧盟成员国。法国民意调查显示，反欧盟的国民阵线的支持率继续攀升。即便是在德国，也有一个反欧盟的民粹主义政党正在崛起。
It's the politics, stupid
Indeed, the political risks to the euro may be greater now than they were at the height of the euro crisis in 2011-12. What was striking then was that large majorities of ordinary voters preferred to stick with the single currency despite the austerity imposed by the conditions of their bail-outs, because they feared that any alternative would be even more painful. Now that the economies of Europe seem a little more stable, the risks of walking away from the single currency may also seem smaller.
Alexis de Tocqueville once observed that the most dangerous moment for a bad government was when it began to reform. Unless it can find some way to boost growth soon, the euro zone could yet bear out his dictum.
Alexis de Tocqueville 曾经做过观察，他认为一个失败政治最危险的时刻是在其正准备开始改革的时候。除非它能很快找到刺激增长的方法，欧元区可能仍需为其坚持的政策提供证明。