In every economic crisis there comes a moment of clarity. In Europe soon, millions of people will wake up to realize that the euro-as-we-know-it is gone. Economic chaos awaits them. To understand why, first strip away your illusions. Europe’s crisis to date is a series of supposedly “decisive” turning points that each turned out to […]
In the aftermath of the Irish bailout, the German proposal for a future sovereign and/or senior bank debt restructuring mechanism within the eurozone makes complete political sense to the electorate in stronger European countries. They do not want to write “blank checks” to weaker countries and to out-of-control financial institutions going forward; creditors to countries that run into trouble will face likely losses.
Last week’s renewed anxiety over bond market collapse in Europe’s periphery should come as no surprise. Greece’s EU/IMF program heaps more public debt onto a nation that is already insolvent, and Ireland is now on the same track. Despite massive fiscal cuts and several years of deep recession Greece and Ireland will accumulate 150% of GNP in debt by 2014. A new road is necessary: The burden of financial failure should be shared with the culprits and not only born by the victims.
The big news is France. With sentiment worsening across Europe, France has lost its relative safe haven status – credit default swap spreads on French government debt were up sharply today.
The trigger – oddly enough – was Hungary’s announcement that its budget is worse than expected (blaming the previous government; this is starting to become the European pattern) and in the current fragile environment discussed yesterday, this relatively small piece of news spooked investors. But these developments only reinforced a trend that was already in place.
Many commentators suggest Spain is now the euro zone’s Maginot line. The argument is clear: Spain, with GDP over $1.3 trillion (8th largest in the world; 5th largest in Europe) and its large outstanding bank and public debt, is simply too big to fail without causing irreparable harm to the euro zone financial system. If we dig in here, the reasoning goes, eurozone market upheavals can be stopped.
According to Friedrich von Hayek, the development of welfare socialism after World War II undermined freedom and would lead western democracies inexorably to some form of state-run serfdom.
Hayek had the sign and the destination right but was entirely wrong about the mechanism. Unregulated finance, the ideology of unfettered free markets, and state capture by corporate interests are what ended up undermining democracy both in North America and in Europe. All industrialized countries are at risk, but it’s the eurozone – with its vulnerable structures – that points most clearly to our potentially unpleasant collective futures.
The Greek “rescue” package announced last weekend is dramatic, unprecedented, and far from enough to stabilize the eurozone.
The Greek government and the European Union (EU) leadership, prodded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are finally becoming realistic about the dire economic situation in Greece. They have abandoned previous rounds of optimistic forecasts and have now admitted to a profoundly worse situation. This new program calls for a total of 11% of GDP in terms of “fiscal adjustments” (i.e., reduction in the budget deficit; now meaning government spending cuts mostly) in 2010, 4.3% in 2011, and 2% in 2012 and 2013. The total debt to GDP ratio peaks at 149% in 2012-13 before starting a gentle glide path back down to sanity.
The bailout of Greece, while still not fully consummated, has brought an eerie calm in European financial markets. It is, for sure, a massive bailout by historical standards. With the planned addition of IMF money, the Greeks will receive 18% of their GDP in one year at preferential interest rates. This equals 4,000 euros per person, and will be spent in roughly 11 months.
The Europeans announced Sunday they would provide 30 billion euros of assistance to Greece, amid informed rumors that the IMF will offer another 10-15 billion. With a total of say 40-45 billion euros in the bag – more than the market was expecting — the Greeks have time to make changes.