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Why There Was no “Euro Crisis” in the USA

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June 28, 2012 – Comments (3)

Excellent post by Cullen Roche

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Why There Was no “Euro Crisis” in the USA
from PRAGMATIC CAPITALISM by Cullen Roche

http://pragcap.com/why-there-was-no-euro-crisis-in-the-usa

One of the better analogies for understanding the Euro crisis is to look at the USA and the relationship between the states and the federal government.  The USA, like Europe’s nations, is made up of a group of states that are all users of a single currency.  There is no trade rebalancing between the states because there is no floating FX between the users and they all have a potential solvency contraint since they can’t print dollars (ie, they can all “run out of money”).  Europe functions largely the same way (though it’s a bit more complex than that since they have national central banks, but the basic idea is the same).


Everyone knows the states in the USA have had major budget woes in recent years as revenues collapsed following the crisis.  And few predictions were more vocal in the last few years than Meredith Whitney’s call for hundreds of billions in municipal defaults (she wasn’t the only one though probably the most vocal).  But the crisis at the state level never panned out.  Why not?  The answer is simple and it gets to the crux of the difference between Europe and the USA.


The states in the USA, being part of a UNITED monetary system, have access to federal funding (and the federal government can’t “run out of money”).  So, while they have balanced budget amendments they also have access to the Federal government’s bottomless money pit.  This has been crucial in understanding why there was never a state solvency crisis.   Highlighting this point was a recent piece by the NY Fed:


“To mitigate the loss in state and local government revenue, the federal stimulus bill provided a substantial increase in federal aid, as the chart below suggests. Nevertheless, the stimulus offset only part of the effects of declining tax revenues, and total state and local revenues still dropped. Combined with the requirement to balance their operating budgets, the revenue gap forced states and localities to make difficult choices. Between fiscal years 2009 and 2011, states alone were compelled to make up more than $430 billion in budget shortfalls in order to satisfy their balanced budget requirements. Information on local government actions is harder to obtain, but it is likely that they also had to close large gaps.”


This has had a massively positive impact on the overall economy in the USA.  It’s likely that if the states had not been bolstered by the Federal government we could have had much broader solvency issues at the state level and perhaps something more closely resembling the crisis in Europe where unemployment rates are 20%+ in many countries.  Here’s more detail on this from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):


“Federal assistance lessened the extent to which states needed to take actions that further harmed the economy.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), enacted in February 2009, included substantial assistance for states.  The amount in ARRA to help states maintain current activities was about $135 billion to $140 billion over a roughly 2½-year period — or between 30 percent and 40 percent of projected state shortfalls for fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011.  Most of this money was in the form of increased Medicaid funding and a “State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.”  (There were also other streams of funding in the Recovery Act flowing through states to local governments or individuals, but these will not address state budget shortfalls.)  This money reduced the extent of state spending cuts and state tax and fee increases.”


And a bit more:


“Although it is still too early to have a complete picture of how the funds are affecting every state’s budget, all evidence to date suggests that the money is making a substantial difference. Without the funds, the extent of budget cuts undoubtedly would be greater. A handful of concrete examples: (see link)”


Luckily, the USA is not Europe and is not becoming Europe because the USA has the political and fiscal unity that Europe woefully needs to complete their monetary union.  The recent crisis has made this abundantly clear by now.

3 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On June 28, 2012 at 9:38 AM, whereaminow (20.40) wrote:

But the crisis at the state level never panned out. 

Give it time. Stockton, CA just became the largest municipality in the USA to declare bankruptcy. It will take a while to unfold, but many more are coming. It's a little early to say it never panned out. It will. It's inevitable. It might just take a while.

No fiscal unity - whether it's under a dollar, euro, or gold standard - can stop crazed politicians elected by crazed citizens that believe in the almighty glory of the nation state. Economic reality bites.

David in Liberty

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#2) On June 29, 2012 at 1:20 PM, leohaas (32.46) wrote:

I am not so sure about this. True, the United States cannot run out of money. And indeed, the individual states have relied on federal money to stay afloat. But there is no guarantee that this flow of federal money will continue. I think, for instance, it will stop if Republicans win the Presidency or both the Senate and the House.

David: municipalities in CA are a special case. This is because of Prop 13. This has resulted in property taxes (the major source of income for local governments) going down with the value of the property. In many other states the tax rate goes up if the total assessed value of taxed property goes down, keeping property tax income for the local government level.

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#3) On June 29, 2012 at 2:03 PM, rofgile (99.31) wrote:

I don't think there are state level crisis, and it seems like California never imploded such as some people thought would happen.

However - several large municipalities have had or are going into severe problems.

Look at Birmingham, AL - that city and county have had enormous debt problems and the effects are panning out in progressive losses of services people come to expect.  (Less courthouses, loss public workers in DMVs - lines for hours, multiple-fold higher water bills,  less schools, libraries..)  

 - BTW, Birmingham is a case where the local leaders have their hands tied for raising property taxes, and most other taxes (perhaps they can further raise the already high sales taxes on the poor). 

And, look whats happening in Detroit.  The city almost fired 200 firefighters in the peak of summer, right before the 4th of july. Only FED support kept that from happening.  Detroit is on the verge of being taken over by the state to be managed by outsiders.

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There are some cities that are recovering well and I see business expanding in / houses selling again, like the one I am currently in.  But, there are a lot of them that were in near critical health prior to this debt crisis of 2009 - and now have to face big changes.

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