Does the euro need to be devalued?
"If the IMF’s chief was not a European, would the eurozone crisis still be dragging on?” That was just one question from the floor to panelists at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Bangkok, Thailand.
The WEF manages the neat trick of bringing together political and business leaders at various events across the globe. The media has unparallelled access as we rub shoulders with the great and the good.
You could not move for some ministers – mostly from the 10 nations that make of ASEAN - and business leaders wanting to discuss the horror of how the crisis had been handled.
Four years is more than enough time for the 17 nations that share the euro to sort out their problems.
The eurozone has the financial fire power to sort out its own mess. Berlin just needs to step on the gas; the longer it procrastinates the deeper the problems. And nothing will be solved without breaking a few egg shells.
Spain desperately needs help; its banking sector is saddled with homegrown toxic debt from its own property bubble that was financed by the European Central Bank’s low interest rates and German and French financiers.
Asia's financial crisis was a lesson in tough love – much of it delivered by the IMF: tax rises, ending of subsidies, privatisation, closure of insolvent financial institutions. This was the usual IMF fare, despite heaping praise on Thailand only months before the baht’s devaluation.
It’s time for the same in Europe.
Asia's experience of its own financial crisis is instructive. By 1997, Thailand’s blistering economic expansion, fuelled by a different currency union, had ended its peg to the US dollar. It also gave rise to international investors pouring money into the economy, corporations borrowing excessive money, consumers loading up on loans, and governments' spending ballooning.
Thailand’s debt soared from $28.8bn, or 33 per cent of the GDP, in 1990 to $94.3bn, or 50.9 per cent of GDP, by the end of 1996.
It reads like every other bubble, only it was taking place in a developing nation; that would never happen in more developed countries.
What followed was painful for Thailand and the other Asian "Tigers": currency devaluations, incomes falling almost 85 per cent, unemployment soaring as businesses could not repay their loans, food riots, and people being turfed out of their homes for the non-repayment of loans.
It’s time Europe’s leaders woke up to the fact that its currency is overvalued and its debts unsustainable.
Europe's banks need to clear up their debt problems and the governments need to make efforts to rein in debt and expenditure.
It will be painful, but Europe's current crop of leaders know the consequences: they will be thrown out of power if salaries, pensions, welfare benefits, and house prices tumble.
The eurozone cannot be run for the benefit of one country - Germany.
And the IMF and other nations cannot stand by as the rot sets in for the rest of the world economy.