Will Europe choose an energy crisis or a fiscal crisis?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Estimates of the size of the energy price shock vary, but one plausible assessment runs in the range of 6% to 8% of GDP for Europe. One response to this shock would be to let energy prices rise and allow the private sector to adjust. This would mean higher costs for manufacturing, higher home heating bills, and lower disposable income to spend on other goods and services. In broad terms, it would be like the energy price shock of 1979 and the following recession…

That sounds grim, but it is important to realize that there is a different yet equally grim path: Governments could take this energy price shock and turn it into a fiscal shock instead…

If a government picked up the entire extra energy cost, it would cost something in the range of 6% to 8% of GDP — and that cost would need to be incurred every year that energy prices stayed high. That would require more government borrowing, higher taxes, more money printing, or some mix of those options.

The good news is that turning an energy crisis into a fiscal crisis doesn’t spread high energy costs through the entire economy. The bad news is twofold: First, keeping energy prices low does nothing to encourage conservation. Second, and more important, a fiscal crisis is still a crisis. Even if a government eschews extra borrowing, how much room is there to raise taxes, given economic and political constraints?

Recommended, and with a nod to Arnold Kling.


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