Greece screwed – Euro next?

by | May 5, 2010


On Greece, Martin Wolf is bleak

Yet [despite the bailout] it is hard to believe that Greece can avoid debt restructuring. First, assume, for the moment, that all goes to plan. Assume, too, that Greece’s average interest on long-term debt turns out to be as low as 5 per cent. The country must then run a primary surplus of 4.5 per cent of GDP, with revenue equal to 7.5 per cent of GDP devoted to interest payments. Will the Greek public bear that burden year after weary year? Second, even the IMF’s new forecasts look optimistic to me. Given the huge fiscal retrenchment now planned and the absence of exchange rate or monetary policy offsets, Greece is likely to find itself in a prolonged slump.

Would structural reform do the trick? Not unless it delivers a huge fall in nominal unit labour costs, since Greece will need a prolonged surge in net exports to offset the fiscal tightening. The alternative would be a huge expansion in the financial deficit of the Greek private sector. That seems inconceivable. Moreover, if nominal wages did fall, the debt burden would become worse than forecast.

…Felix Salmon depressing

Even if Greece were running a zero primary deficit (and I’d love to know if it’s ever managed that particular feat), a default without devaluation would still keep the country mired in its current uncompetitive state. If you’re going to go through the massive pain of a default, you might as well get the upside of devaluation at the same time, and exit the euro.

At that point, the only question is: do you default and devalue now, or do you wait a couple of years? Germany and France might well want to wait, in the hope that their banks will be better able to cope with such a thing in a couple of years’ time. But from a Greek perspective, if the pain is coming, best to go through it now and bring forward the growth rebound, rather than push off the devaluation stimulus to an indefinite point in the future.

…while most of Simon Johnson’s readers have now slit their wrists:

The Europeans will do nothing this week or for the foreseeable future.  They have not planned for these events, they never gamed this scenario, and their decision-making structures are incapable of updating quickly enough.  The incompetence at the level of top European institutions is profound and complete; do not let anyone fool you otherwise.

What we need is a new approach, at the G20 level; this can definitely include debt restructuring, but it has to be done in a systematic fashion (and even then there will be a considerable degree of total mess).  Such a change in framework for dealing with these issues will not get broad support until after further chaos in Europe, but it now needs to be put into place.

The Europeans will not lift a constructive finger.  The leading emerging markets are too busy battening down the hatches (and accumulating ever more massive chests of reserves).  And the White House still seems determined to sleep through this crisis.  Expect nothing.

What are the chances of the Euro emerging from this unscathed? Increasingly slim, it seems – surely one or more countries are going to find it almost impossible to stay inside the currency union. While the UK gazes at its navel, phase 2 of the global financial crisis has firmly taken hold.

We now have an inter-related banking and sovereign debt crisis; no procedures for an orderly bankruptcy of countries (having ignored the lessons of the East Asian financial crisis); and no legal way to allow the destitute to exit the Euro.

What a mess.

Author

  • David Steven is a senior fellow at the UN Foundation and at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.


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