The voting in Catalonia was a trap for Spain’s political leadership in Madrid. They were going to be criticized if they ignored the vote and also if they tried to stop it. Moreover, shunting responsibility for dealing with the crisis on the courts and the police as institutions was no way out. Ultimately, institutions are about people and not just words on a piece of paper. The voters in Catalonia know that. Now the Spanish government will be held to account. Political leaders everywhere should pay attention.
This is a talk I gave on 21 June at the European Political Strategy Center, which is the in-house think tank of the European Commission. The audience was very generous in listening to my presentation. The point I tried to make is that the capital markets union is an important project, but we should be careful to ensure that policymakers supplement the efforts to make capital markets more efficient with efforts to make them more resilient. This is an argument that I have made before and yet it is probably worth repeating. Given the dynamics behind Europe’s economic and financial crisis, there is simply too much at stake.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts about the relevance of U.S. experience for Europe’s capital markets union. My argument is that U.S. experience is relevant both in terms of its successes and in terms of its mistakes. The most important lesson I draw from the United States is about the importance of managing or channeling the flight to quality when financial markets come under duress. In jargon, my specific concern is when a sudden increase in liquidity preference translates into a spontaneous return of home bias. In plainer language, what interests me is how we handle situations where investors decide to place priority on protecting the value of their assets.
The European Union is starting a big debate about fiscal federalism. There are many questions involved. The one I want to focus on is whether a Europe-wide fiscal arrangement with common transfers would help smooth economic performance across participating countries while at the same time helping them to converge on similar levels of income per capita. The line you often hear is that this is how federal transfers work in the United States: rich states like New York and Massachusetts bankroll poorer states in the south and west of the country both when times are tough and in order to foster the whole of the U.S. economy.
In reality, the U.S. federal transfer system does not work that way. The richer states in the north-east of the country get more federal transfers per capita than the poorer states in the south and west. The reason is that the U.S. federal fiscal system was designed to support people as individuals (or households) and not as clusters or places on the map. Moreover, that design reflects important differences across state and local governments. State governments that believe in more redistribution tend to get more redistribution; state governments that do not believe in redistribution tend to leave people to fend for themselves. In this sense, state sovereignty and democratic legitimacy are powerful influences even when the ‘states’ in question are U.S. states rather than national states (or Member States).