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By Philippe Legrain ADD COMMENTS

Like passengers on an up escalator, Britons and other Europeans for decades enjoyed seemingly effortless rises in living standards year after year. Expanding economies and swelling social spending lifted nearly everyone up. Each generation could look forward to much better lives than those of previous ones. Yet in recent years, this growth escalator has broken down.

It has been creaky for a while: since the turn of the century, productivity growth has been sluggish across most of Europe – and wage rises even slower. But piling on debt provided an artificial boost, while bubbly house prices and financial trickery blinded people to the risks.

Then the financial crisis and the panic in the eurozone threw a spanner in the works and the escalator went into reverse. The long slump and governments’ subsequent budget cuts have exposed the chasm between the fortunate – and sometimes undeserving – few who continue to thrive and the majority who are struggling. Many people have fallen far – not least the 26 million Europeans who are out of work, many of them for a long time. In Britain, real wages have fallen by nearly a tenth. A typical British household is no richer than a decade ago. Even the much-vaunted German escalator has stalled. The average German earns fractionally less than 15 years ago.

Read an exclusive extract from European Spring in the Independent

 

Posted 24 Apr 2014 in Blog, euro, Europe, European Spring, The Independent

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