The welfare state in a death spiral

Wise old Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post on the real crisis facing Europe; it's not Greek debt but the overpromises of the welfare state:

Euro coins and notes were introduced in 2002. The currency clearly hasn't lived up to its promises. It was supposed to lubricate faster economic growth by eliminating the cost and confusion of constantly converting between national currencies. More important, it would promote political unity. With a common currency, people would feel "European." Their identities as Germans, Italians and Spaniards would gradually blend into a continental identity.

None of this has happened. Economic growth in the countries using the currency averaged 2.1 percent annually from 1992 to 2001 and 1.7 percent from 2002 to 2008. Multiple currencies were never a big obstacle to growth; high taxes, pervasive regulations and generous subsidies were. As for political unity, the euro is now dividing Europeans. The Greeks are rioting. The countries making $145 billion in loans to Greece -- particularly Germany -- resent the costs of the rescue. A single currency could no more subsume national identities than drinking Coke could make people American. If other euro countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy) suffer Greece's fate -- lose market confidence and can't borrow at plausible rates -- there would be a wider crisis.

But the central cause is not the euro, even if it has meant Greece can't depreciate its own currency to ease the economic pain. Budget deficits and debt are the real problems; they stem from all the welfare benefits (unemployment insurance, old-age assistance, health insurance) provided by modern governments.

To highlight this ostrich like behavior by European governments, central banks in Europe - and our own Federal Reserve - have pledged nearly a trillion dollars to keep the Euro afloat, guarantee bonds from failing economies, and generally kick the can down the road for a few years until the next crisis strikes.

If our own debt crisis hits in the next few years, who is going to bail out the United States?

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky