One false move in Europe could set off global chain reaction

Monday, May 24, 2010
By Paul Martin

By Howard Schneider and Neil Irwin
Washington Post.com
Monday, May 24, 2010

If the trouble starts — and it remains an “if” — the trigger may well be obscure to the concerns of most Americans: a missed budget projection by the Spanish government, the failure of Greece to hit a deficit-reduction target, a drop in Ireland’s economic output.

But the knife-edge psychology currently governing global markets has put the future of the U.S. economic recovery in the hands of politicians in an assortment of European capitals. If one or more fail to make the expected progress on cutting budgets, restructuring economies or boosting growth, it could drain confidence in a broad and unsettling way. Credit markets worldwide could lock up and throw the global economy back into recession.

For the average American, that seemingly distant sequence of events could translate into another hit on the 401(k) plan, a lost factory shift if exports to Europe decline and another shock to the banking system that might make it harder to borrow.

“If what happened in Greece were to happen in a large country, it could fundamentally mark our times,” Angelos Pangratis, head of the European Union delegation to the United States, said Friday after a panel discussion on the crisis in Greece sponsored by the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

That local economic development boards are sponsoring panels on government debt in Greece is perhaps proof enough that Europe’s problems are the world’s. That the dominoes can tumble fast was shown Thursday when a new and narrowly drawn stock-trading policy in Germany helped trigger a sell-off on Wall Street.

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