For years, I have warned my European students of the fiscal free-rider problem built into the structure of the euro area. My examples have always been fiscally undisciplined peripheral governments seeking political gain by running budget deficits at the expense of their euro partners. Now, though, as the debate unfolds over measures to cope with the European sovereign debt crisis, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Germany, the long-time locomotive of the euro, is also, in its own way, free-riding on the common currency.
The free-rider problem arises whenever someone is able to capture the full benefits of an action while shifting all or part of the the costs to others. I introduce the concept to my students with the example of ten friends eating dinner in a restaurant. If they know they will get separate checks at the end of the meal, they all order hamburgers and beer. If they know there will be one check, to be split equally among everyone at the table, they order steak and champagne.
In the case of deficit-prone peripheral members of the euro, individual governments capture the full economic and political benefits of fiscal stimulus while shifting part of the costs to other euro members. This happens in two ways. Read more>>>