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Has Greek austerity finally gone too far?

Just as this crisis-stricken country appeared to be turning around, Antonis Samaras shot himself in the foot.

The Iron Lady is gone, but Thatcherism is alive and well

Commentary: Her influence lives on in the spread of austerity in UK and Europe.
Margaret Thatcher Conservative Party HQ 2013Enlarge
A portrait of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher hangs on the wall at the Conservative Party headquarters in Finchley in north London on April 10, 2013. British lawmakers interrupted their holidays for a special session of parliament on April 10 to pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher, who died on April 8 at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke. (Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images)
The reason Margaret Thatcher’s death continues to divide opinions and arouse strong emotional reactions has to do more with the controversial legacy of her policies in the current economic environment, than with her personal history and individual qualities.
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Chatter: Europe goes on strike

Millions of Europeans protest against austerity, Obama stands by his general, and China prepares to reveal its new leaders.
ChatterEnlarge
Graphic. (Antler Agency/GlobalPost)
Millions of Europeans protest against austerity, Obama stands by his general, and China prepares to reveal its new leaders.
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Hey Greece, read this before you vote today

BRUSSELS — In what promises to be a pivotal moment for the global economy, Greeks will go to the polls today, for the second time in two months. 
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Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer heads for the House of Commons to deliver his budget speech (tucked away in the little red box.) (CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

Budgets are inherently dull. Outside the Beltway do many Americans pay attention when the President sends his annual budget request to Congress?

But here in Britain, no mater how dull the details,  there are weeks of speculation about what the annual budget will contain in terms of taxes and measures to encourage this or that part of the economy. On the day itself, the 24 hour news stations go wall to wall with the story, statistics fly like a seminar in business school.

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European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Olli Rehn (R) attends a press conference accompanied by the Portuguese finance minister, Vitor Gaspar (L) at S. Bento Palace, in Lisbon, on March 14, 2012. Portugal is swallowing the EU's austerity medicine in return for loans. It seems that medicine is not helping individual patients using the country's health system. (PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a story I've been expecting to see for some time coming out of the U.S. and my thanks to The Guardian's Giles Tremlett for finding it in Portugal. Clearly the economic situation in the West since 2008 - crash followed by government imposed austerity measures - has been having a terrible effect on many folks' mental and physical well-being.

Now in Portugal comes a very specific set of data showing how devastating things are.

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European austerity by the numbers: in or out of the euro zone today's figures are grim.

Statistics prove yet again: cutting alone will not help an economy

The European economic numbers flow across my computer screen, not quite as quickly as the ticker tape crawl at CNBC or Bloomberg, but there are a lot of them and virtually every one is bad. And in or out of the euro zone, they all point to the same thing: austerity isn't working.

In Greece: the economy contracted by 7 percent in the last quarter. Since austerity budgets began to be implemented two years ago Greece's debt had jumped from 115 percent of GDP to 166 percent of GDP, the Guardian reports.

In Britain: Unemployment is at 8.4 percent according to the Office of National Statistics, a 16 year high (I have reported on other sources of unemployment statistics here).

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Greece passes new austerity deal amid violent clashes (VIDEO)

Greek lawmakers approved harsh new austerity measures after rioting in central Athens

British austerity cuts: rhetoric and reality

An independent report notes that most of the government's cuts have yet to come into effect.
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Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, the global leader in voluntary austerity cuts. A new report shows that for all his rhetoric only a tiny number of cuts have actually been put in place - but still enough to drag Britain into recession. (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Unemployment is up, the economy contracted in the last quarter, so austerity cuts are biting, right?

That has been the tone of not only my reporting in the last year but all reporting about the British economy. It has been the framework for political criticism by the opposition Labour party.  Its mantra has been "too far, too fast."

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Austerity: Cause and predictable effect

Post-Davos consensus growing among enlightened commentators: policy makers haven't got a clue
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There's a general strike on in Belgium today. The predictable effect of austerity cuts to services and wages. (VIRGINIE LEFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Davos is not a place where policy gets made or treaties get negotiated, as I wrote last week. If it has a benefit, it is that the World Economic Forum gets a bunch of the one percent in a single place for a concentrated period of time and allows thoughtful commentators an equally undiluted opportunity to assess what they are thinking.

The result this morning is three excellent essays by commentators working in the mainstream press.

At The New York Times, Paul Krugman makes much of a chart published last week by British think tank, National Institute of Economic and Social Research (here, scroll down right column). It shows that the current economic downturn in Britain is now longer than that of the Great Depression, if you measure the length of time it takes to return to pre-downturn economic output.

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