For a Stronger Recovery, the U.S. Should Learn From Europe

jobs line
jobs line

U.S. lawmakers directed trillions in taxpayer dollars to prop up reckless banks and provide stimulus spending that was supposed to create jobs. Bankers paid themselves big bonuses, and hiring on Wall Street is at a blistering pace again.

The job situation in the rest of the country, meanwhile, remains anemic even as signs mount that the economy is headed for a slowdown. And rather than reexamine their assumptions to right the ship at home, American politicians have tried to strong-arm policymakers around the world for short-term fixes instead.

But that hypocrisy is looking more ridiculous by the day.

Europe's More Solid Rebound

On Wednesday, the euro rallied sharply after banks on the Continent sought much less in short-term funding to tide them over than analysts had forecast. Despite alarmist proclamations declaring the end of the euro if taxpayers didn't immediately bail out creditors, the light-touch approach taken by the European Central Bank seems to be working.

Unemployment in Germany, Europe's largest economy, meanwhile dropped to 7.5% after posting 12 consecutive months of gains, according to data released Wednesday. Smart government-assisted measures that allow firms to shorten and shift work hours rather than engage in wholesale firings have played a major role in the rebound, according to analysts.

Not only has the human toll of the sharp recession been minimized, the economic rebound also seems stronger and more durable.

After being burned badly by American financial mumbo jumbo in the form of exotic derivatives that were supposed to minimize risk but only distributed it into every corner of the financial system, the Europeans seem to have learned from their mistakes. They are wisely ignoring calls for deficit spending and opting for commonsense measures aimed at consolidating their financial position instead.

Greece's Situation Is More Manageable Than America's Was

That more button-down approach to finance applies to even the Continent's basket-case economies like Greece. While frequently seen as a rerun of the American financial sector two years ago, the debt crisis there is ultimately far more manageable. Greece may be in way over its head, but it's free of the kind of synthetic financial instruments that concealed and multiplied risk in the name of managing it.

As such, a default would put the country on more stable footing rather than cause the kind of credit-market seizures that followed the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008. And creditors -- those sacred cows in the U.S. who always find themselves made whole, even though their job is to lend money prudently -- will rightly take a hit in the process.

Noted bears like New York University economist Nouriel Roubini rightly argue that an orderly bankruptcy is the way to go for Greece and point to prior restructurings like Pakistan, Ukraine and Uruguay as examples. "In short, an orderly restructuring of Greece's public debt is achievable and desirable for the debtor and its creditors," Roubini wrote recently.

The European economy, then, could be stabilized after taking its licks. Embattled politicians on this side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, seem to be grasping for any way to kick the can down the road.