Europe's Resilience Has Some Lessons for the U.S.


Investors watched in horror as the eurozone's financial tensions spilled over to the political sphere in spring as Greece's debt crisis came to a head. The German and Greek press exchanged vicious shots, and riots in Athens turned deadly.

Pundits took to calling for an outright breakup of the eurozone. But with the region posting a sharper rebound than most had predicted, investors may want to take away another lesson.

Europe's Resilience Becomes More Evident

Sixteen countries sharing a currency can be a tough and highly politically charged process. But Europe's underlying economy -- which has been much less involved with financial gimmicks than its American counterpart -- tends to be more stable than it's generally given credit for.

As the political grandstanding subsides, that resilience is becoming more evident. On Thursday, Germany reported that industrial production surged ahead of expectations to hit 3.2% for June. The manufacturing powerhouse has now added jobs for 13 consecutive months and recouped nearly all the jobs lost during the financial crisis.

With employment security at its highest level in two years, German consumer confidence is soaring. Unions are pushing for higher pay amid the improving economy.

AIG Bailout Alone Bigger Than Greece's

The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, credits Greece, with making "great progress" in the austerity measures it outlined. Budget deficits have been reduced by 45%, and the deficit this year will be brought down to 8.1%, from 13.6%.

Given the cushy arrangements for Greece's workers -- half the workforce is unionized, and retirement can sometimes come as early as 50 -- making big cuts is easier than it might seem. Greek unions organized major demonstrations to convey the consequences of too many concessions to their political leaders. But ultimately there was plenty to concede, too.

Greece's problem -- too many civil servants working at too easy a pace and retiring too early -- may also be much less damaging than what cratered the U.S. economy. It took $146 billion in loans to bail out Greece. By contrast, the tanking insurance giant AIG (AIG) alone required a bailout of $182 billion to prevent an even bigger fallout for the broader economy than what had already been wreaked.

Europe Keeps Chugging Along

As Germany shines and Greece heals, European policymakers are wisely pushing for austerity measures. But faced with soaring unemployment and a weak social safety net, American policymakers are pondering additional maneuvers like quantitative easing to help boost growth.

In good times, the U.S. economy is lauded for its dynamism while Europe is ridiculed for its high taxes and sluggish growth. But America is still paying for its financial wizardry, and investors should take note of the Continent's ability to keep on chugging.