With everyone talking about Greece being on the verge of exiting the euro after Monday’s summit meeting, it seems to be forgotten that the current crisis is not really about Greece’s currency arrangements at all. The Greek people are not demanding a return to the drachma and few within the country are arguing for the competitive benefits a currency devaluation would entail. And there are no formal rules that Greece is breaking that must lead to an exit from the euro because, legally, the euro is a fixed and irrevocable currency union. (...)
Europe’s governments and the IMF made an enormous mistake in bailing out Greece’s private creditors in 2010 and then overseeing a botched debt restructuring in 2012. In turn, the Greek governments of this era made the mistake of accepting official loans to pay off private creditors, perhaps not realising they were jumping out the frying pan straight into the fire. Now the Greeks are learning that defaulting on private creditors is one thing (not so hard it turns out, once you’ve got Lee Buchheit in your corner) but defaulting on governments of rich European countries is quite something else.
Blaming the euro for the current impasse is actually pretty strange because the euro’s founding fathers explicitly warned member states to not to get themselves into this situation. The story of the demise of Europe’s “no bailout clause” is an interesting one. (...)
By and large, the policy heavyweights of the day, such as Rudi Dornbusch, believed there was a “categorical no-bailout injunction.” As such, it was expected that markets would understand that European governments were more likely to default once their devaluation option was taken away and that financial markets would price the sovereign debt of countries differently depending on the health of their public finances. (...)
Well, the economists got it all wrong. Financial markets hadn’t seen a default in Europe since the Second World War but had grown tired of repeated currency realignments. The apparent end of devaluation risk was celebrated and, in the benign macroeconomic conditions of the early years of the euro, sovereign default was more or less forgotten about. (...)
Economists also got it wrong about the “categorical no bailout injunction.” It turned out that no such clause really existed in the European Treaty. The relevant article (No. 125 of the current treaty) merely stated that the Union and its (.member states “shall not be liable for or assume the commitments” of other countries. This isn’t really how bailouts work: Those doing the bailout rarely announce “we’re taking over this country’s debts.” Instead, they provide loans to the government that is in trouble and these loans allow this country to honouring its existing loan commitments. (...)
So why were Europe’s politicians so keen to provide massive loans to Greece in 2010? One answer that comes up time and again is that European governments were using the loans to Greece as a way to protect German and French banks that had built up large exposures to Greek sovereign debt. (...)
Still, the figures in this area don’t really add up. The total exposure of European banks to Greek sovereigns was always fairly modest. These banks may have engaged in lobbying but, on its own, I’m not sure how important this element was. (...)
If the direct impact of a Greek default wasn’t going to be so great, there were lots of people in 2010 ready to scaremonger the potential indirect effects of such a default. The Europe of early 2010 was a place where the mere mention of the word “default” triggered visions of Hank Paulson’s decision to let Lehman brothers go into bankruptcy.(...)
Over 2010 to 2012, members of the ECB Executive Board, such as Lorenzo Bini Smaghi regularly gave speeches depicting the depicting a potential Greek default as provoking “an economic meltdown”. For example, Bini Smaghi argued that a default should be avoided because it would “punish patient investors” who believed in the adjustment program could restore sustainability, that a default would discourage investors from providing money to any euro-area member state and that “the payment of debts should be enforced, through sanctions if need be.” Or gunboats perhaps. (...)
My favourite theory, however, as to why European governments bailed out Greece is political hubris. European politicians were so sure the euro was a fantastic political success that a nasty event like a default was simply unthinkable for a euro area member state. If one euro area member state could default, the thinking went, surely this meant it could happen to others. So it needed to be stopped.
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Publicada por Miguel Madeira em 16:22