EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?
The Eurozone is still in crisis. Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc. all need yet more money, but who is prepared to make these funds available to these seemingly bottomless pits? A recent Top Gear program featuring a race through Spain with so-called budget-priced supercars revealed disturbing images of whole new towns developed to completion, even with the signs of intended occupants above shop windows, but without any signs of life or occupation. One of these urbanisations was on the outskirts of Madrid but was so empty that they could have a 5 km street race. A brand new international airport used for just one year and then abandoned. For once Top Gear actually provided a documentary about the situation in Spain more hard hitting than any visual newsreel that I have seen. The image of budget supercars in the £120,000 – £200,000 price range against this devastating backdrop made the experience surreal.
Do we need another Marshall Plan for the Eurozone, but on what basis – there has been no devastating war or natural disaster. So what went wrong with the EU/Eurozone? Can it be fixed, and if so who is prepared to finance it.
Is it broke beyond repair? If so we can’t just abandon it – there is significant collateral damage in the form of ordinary people living in fear of what their future holds. Unemployment is at unprecedented levels in post-war Europe, and we have a whole generation of young people with no apparent future.
I was fortunate enough some years ago to have Henry Kissinger sitting next to me on a flight to New York. I will always remember one comment he made during that flight. We were discussing the difference in attitude between Americans and Brits. He stated that the people in the USA provided far more economic value during their working life than Brits. His criticism of the Brits was that they gained years of valuable experience in the workplace but, at 60 – 65 years old, they were retired off and sent to the scrap heap. He said that in the USA the workforce retired only when they were no longer capable of valuable function, or they chose to retire. On valuable function, this included mentoring the younger generation to impart their valuable experience and wisdom. He said that Companies in the USA retain the older generation to mentor younger people and thus make the younger generation more valuable faster than conventional training.
This reverberates more today than it did then. In the UK we have the crazy situation of valuable resources and experience wasted only because they are over 50 years of age, and a younger generation out of work because education failed them and thus considered of little value to businesses already watching every penny of cost. Many businesses have a dumbed-down performance because their bright young things just do not have the knowledge and experience to keep standards high – another wasted cost? I accept that there is also a celebrity attitude problem amongst a percentage of the younger generation, but there is also a greater percentage that seriously do want the opportunity to perform. We have started to increase the retirement age, but it will be interesting to see if business will capture the older people and use them wisely, or just find other ways to remove them from the workplace. Why do we need a retirement age at all other than to identify when a State pension will be available. If one thinks lateral on this point the employer could offer a reduced salary to an older person receiving a State pension, rather than retire them off, and thus employ the younger person to be mentored at a nominal cost after applying the reduction in salary of the mentor. Two employment issues resolved in one simple move of increasing valuable contribution.
We also have a Government quietly encouraging businesses to prefer younger people over older people in spite of ageism legislation – for good political reason, albeit short-sighted. Businesses need talented people that can add value. Young people need knowledge and experience to be valuable. Older people have this knowledge and experience in spades. When do we bring the 2 together?
Now look at retirement ages in other Eurozone countries, especially those in trouble. Some of these countries scrap valuable resources years before they do in the UK. How much economic value is wasted in the EU with these crazy policies and attitudes – and at what cost?
How many of the towns in Spain would have been built if they had harnessed the knowledge and experience of the older people rather than promote younger people too quickly and thus making poor decisions. I am sure that this is reflected throughout Europe. Picture a young, bright, but inexperienced loan officer coming face-to-face with a known and wirily developer looking for large debt to equity ratios for his next (speculative) development – the loan officer being overawed. Then superimpose an older, very experienced loan officer into the same situation. I suggest we see the difference between ‘yes’, and ‘maybe’ – if you increase your equity input and show me some credit-worthy presales.
So what is wrong in the Eurozone? Just blaming the banking crisis is convenient for politicians, but otherwise short-sighted. Could it be that the formation of the Eurozone revealed historic cracks in economic policy that otherwise had been quietly hidden by politicians hoping that it would not be revealed on their watch. How many politicians in the Eurozone watched in envy as Margaret Thatcher broke the stranglehold power of the UK trade unions wishing they could do the same in their country. I sense that had Angela Merkel been in power at the same time as Thatcher then the German unions would have suffered a similar fate.
What I want to do over the following weeks, with the help of the blogging community, is to develop a serious framework that could work in Europe, and then examine whether or not the existing EU/Eurozone can be adapted to this new framework, or should the existing model be scrapped, as were the EEC and ERM before, and the whole of Europe move into a structure built more on economic and business-driven sensibility rather than the existing political mishmash.
I will post the outline of this process tomorrow.