Gordon Brown fears euro crisis worse than Lehman as 1930s beckon
Gordon Brown has warned that Europe's fast-escalating crisis is now more dangerous than the Lehman Brothers disaster three years ago, threatening to tip the West into a 1930s-style slump unless global leaders work together to take dramatic action.
2:18PM BST 16 Sep 201 TELEGRAPH
"The euro can't survive in its present form and will have to be reformed drastically," he told a mostly-Chinese audience at the World Economic Forum in Dalian.
The former Prime Minister said EMU's malaise is at root a banking crisis, not a debt crisis. "The European banks as a whole are grossly under-capitalised: they have liabilities far in excess of American banks. We have now got the inter-play with sovereign debt because we socialised the liabilities," he said.
"It has morphed into a sovereign debt crisis, and is more serious than 2008 because governments then could intervene to sort of out banks. Now both banks and governments have problems," he said.
"You cannot begin to solve this unless you realise that it is a banking problem and a growth problem, as well as being a fiscal problem. You have to take co-ordinated action in all three areas," Mr Brown said, echoing the views of the International Monetary Fund.
He added that the €440bn (£385bn) European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bail-out fund will need "substantially more resources" to cope, with an expanded role for the IMF to shore up the whole EMU system. "People do not believe that Greece can pull through without a default," he said.
Mr Brown called for a revival of the "global growth pact" agreed at the G20's London Summit in March 2009, combining stimulus from America, Europe and Asia to create a multiplier effect that breaks the vicious cycle.
"China must be persuaded to increase consumption," he said, touching on the core issue of East-West trade imbalances that lie behind the global crisis. China's consumption has actually fallen from 48pc in the late 1990s to 36pc of GDP, reflecting a deeply distorted economy.
The suggestion met a caustic response from Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo Yong-Boon, sitting next to him. "China is not going to consume to save the world. It will act in its own enlightened self-interest," he said. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said earlier this week that his country will shift from export-led growth to greater internal demand under its new five-year plan, but this is unlikely to be fast enough to satisfy the rest of the world. Mr Yeo said talk of global architecture is an attempt by Western countries to wriggle out of hard choices and "pass on their pain" to somebody else. The "Old Cathedral" of global affairs – built on American power – is crumbling and should not be rebuilt.
"China and India are going to grow whatever happens to the global system. The world will muddle along as it has for much of history," he said. Mr Yeo called for a bout of "creative destruction" in the West, warning of "very painful" times as American and European workers learn to compete toe-to-toe with educated Asians willing to put in longer hours for much lower pay. This may test political systems to breaking point.
"If Greece leaves the euro, it is more likely the eurozone can be saved, and it would have an illuminating effect on politics in Europe," he said, echoing a widespread view among Asia's policy elite.
Mr Brown said the momentum from the G20 accord in 2009 had been squandered, degenerating into currency squabbles and misplaced obsession with fiscal austerity. Citing Winston Churchill's aphorism, he said leaders had been "resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, and all-powerful for impotence."
"Unless there is global co-ordination, I foresee 10 years of low growth in Europe and America, with very high levels on unemployment, that will lead in the end to greater protectionism. This is exactly like the 1930s."
Mr Brown said Europe's austerity drive reflects same misguided views that prevailed during the Great Depression when Keynesian proposals were dismissed as "inflation, extravagance, and bankruptcy".
"You can impose all the fiscal contraction in the world, and yet more austerity, and that will drive the economy further into recession. Greece's economy will contract 5pc this year, and we're not seeing recovery in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland," he said.
"The Europeans can hold hundreds of meetings but if they are not prepared to face up to the problem they are dealing with, they are not going to get the right answer."
Mr Brown admitted that he was hardly a pin-up politician for stimulus and global action, having lost last year's election on such a manifesto, saying: "People preferred a more parochial solution, seeing debt as the bigger problem. But I have been proved right."