Pavlina Tcherneva spoke to RT’s Erin Ade yesterday on Greece’s impossible situation:
Archive for the ‘Eurozone Crisis’ Category
“There are red lines in the sand that will not be crossed,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said just weeks ago as he began the long negotiations process with creditors.
Some of these lines included no more pension cuts or value-added tax (VAT) increases, and a debt restructuring deal that incorporates renewed economic assistance from Europe. Tsipras has been working to complete the previous government’s austerity commitments, without any guarantee of a meaningful debt reprieve in the future.
Yet on Monday, he crossed his own previous red lines and offered a round of fresh austerity measures worth 7.9 billion euros ($8.9 billion) — the largest to date — which in turn prompted mass protests at home.
Crafted by the Greeks, an agreement seemed close at hand, but was nevertheless rejected by the International Monetary Fund and Greece’s euro partners at the European Commission and European Central Bank. The fiscal tightening that is currently being discussed is on the order of 2 to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), comparable to that at the peak of the crisis in 2010.
If the creditors’ amendments are accepted, here is what the new arrangement will mean for the Greek people, especially those hardest-hit: …
Read the rest at Al Jazeera.
Senior Scholar James Galbraith on the “reforms” being demanded by creditors (vis. pensions, labor markets, privatization, and the VAT) in the negotiations over Greece’s fate:
On our way back from Berlin last Tuesday, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis remarked to me that current usage of the word “reform” has its origins in the middle period of the Soviet Union, notably under Khrushchev, when modernizing academics sought to introduce elements of decentralization and market process into a sclerotic planning system. In those years when the American struggle was for rights and some young Europeans still dreamed of revolution, “reform” was not much used in the West. Today, in an odd twist of convergence, it has become the watchword of the ruling class.
The word, reform, has now become central to the tug of war between Greece and its creditors. New debt relief might be possible – but only if the Greeks agree to “reforms.” But what reforms and to what end? The press has generally tossed around the word, reform, in the Greek context, as if there were broad agreement on its meaning.
The specific reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors today are a peculiar blend. They aim to reduce the state; in this sense they are “market-oriented”. Yet they are the furthest thing from promoting decentralization and diversity. On the contrary they work to destroy local institutions and to impose a single policy model across Europe, with Greece not at the trailing edge but actually in the vanguard. …
Read it at Social Europe.
The Levy Institute’s latest strategic analysis for Greece lays out the ways in which the austerity and “reform” program has undermined the Greek economy, and thereby the country’s ability to manage its public debt.
The report (pdf) also examines how alternative financing arrangements — including a “parallel currency” — might be able to relieve some of the intense fiscal pressure being placed on the Greek government and allow it to invest in a direct job creation program (which would, incidentally, end up reducing Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio. Reading the history of the Greek “bailout” through Galbraith’s interpretive lens makes one wonder whether that goal is really all that high on “reformers'” list of priorities …).
It was never going to be easy. That much was known from the outset.
Greece’s newly elected government and the country’s creditors started from too far apart to quickly settle on anything that would be easily sellable to their respective constituencies.
Greece’s radical left-wing Syriza party came to power on a mandate to end austerity. The Greek people had experienced the worst crisis of any Western country in the postwar era; in the previous five years, their economy had shrunk by one-quarter, and unemployment skyrocketed, while indebtedness exploded accordingly.
No other Western nation has come even close to suffering a humanitarian crisis of this dimension for generations. A people in despair – brought to their knees, the Greeks are yearning for a revival of their fortunes.
Remarkably, in utter denial of the fact that the brutal austerity experiment imposed on Greece since 2010 had proved outstandingly counterproductive, Greece’s creditors remained set to continue with what to them had become business as usual. They held out sizable fresh austerity, naively expecting the Greeks to shoulder the costs of the administered austerity wreckage alone.
Their so-called bailout program assumed that Greece would run primary budget surpluses of 4.5% of gross domestic product as far as the eye could see. No other country had ever done so – but the Greek people were meant to endure lifelong punishment and smile in gratitude along the way.
It is good and right that the Greeks decided to not put up with this folly for any longer.
It is good for Greece, and it would be good and right for Europe to finally accept that the calamity that happened in Greece in recent years is one of shared responsibility, but not of Greece alone. It would be best if euro members remembered that their relationship was meant to be one of partnership: equal partners of a union with a common destiny.
The main problem is that governments in creditor countries, with Germany being the key one, have systematically misled their people. Their so-called bailout programs for Greece were never primarily a bailout of the Greek people. continue reading…
How has the Greek government used international loans?
Using the data available from the flow of funds published by the Bank of Greece and the sectoral accounts published by the Hellenic Statistical Institute (ElStat), we have the following:
|Table 1. Greece. Use of international loans (billion euro)|
|Sources of funds|
|1. Long-term loans from abroad||24.3||30.0||110.0||30.8||5.3||200.5|
|Uses of funds|
|2. Purchases of securities held abroad||19.9||24.4||44.3||8.0||10.7||107.4|
|3. Purchases of financial sector equities||0.2||0.9||0.0||19.0||0.0||20.2|
|4. Capital transfers||3.6||3.7||8.6||23.3||1.4||40.7|
|5. Interest payments||13.2||15.1||9.7||7.3||5.3||50.6|
|6. Residual = 1 – (2+3+4+5)||-12.7||-14.2||47.3||-26.8||-12.1||-18.4|
|NB: * First three quarters for 2014|
We start by estimating the funds received, using the table on “Financial liabilities broken down by holding sector,” and taking the line “Long-term loans received from abroad.” The largest part of these funds has been used to reduce the existing stock of debt held abroad: line 2 in Table 1 is obtained by the change in government long-term debt securities held abroad, which has been negative from 2010 onwards. A negative change in liabilities amounts to purchasing back the existing stock of debt(1). Another large part has been transferred to the domestic financial sector, either by purchasing equities (line 3 in Table 1, obtained from the data on flows of financial assets purchased by the government and issued by the domestic financial sector) or through capital transfers (line 4 in Table 1, which reports total capital transfers of the government).
If we add the total expenditure of the government on interest payments (line 5), we get that, overall, the international loans have not been sufficient to meet these expenses.
It could be argued that, had the Greek government not recapitalized Greek banks, a major banking crisis would have had even harsher consequences for the population of Greece. On the other hand, since these funds have not reached the Greek population, all debtors (households with mortgages, non-financial firms) who have experienced a severe drop in their income (for households) or sales (for firms) may be unable to meet their financial obligations, and this will imply a new, possibly large, fall in the value of the assets of the Greek financial sector, requiring more government intervention.
The only way to have addressed the Greek public debt problem, which was indeed a problem of foreign debt, in a sustainable way should have been to strengthen the Greek economy in its ability to produce and sell abroad enough to cover for its imports. Greece needed an investment plan; as Joseph Stiglitz just said at the ongoing INET conference in Paris, the “EU addresses the imbalances by making deficit countries starve instead of increasing their exports” (as tweeted by INET).
(1) In 2010 and 2011 a large negative value in the flow of government securities held abroad was matched, for a total of roughly 20 billion euros, by an increase in the flow held by the Greek financial sector.
Below is the wide-ranging interview L. Randall Wray gave to EKO – Público TV in Spain as part of the launch of the Spanish edition of his Modern Money Primer (questions in Spanish):
Dimitri Papadimitriou takes on the assumption that European leaders demanding the continuation of large fiscal surpluses from Greece can claim the moral high ground. The economics behind these demands are unrealistic, and the insistence on full debt repayment is both immoral and imprudent—not to mention deaf to the lessons of history:
“Greece’s government and people have indulged in excesses and corruption; now it is time to pay the price.” The argument for full repayment of Greece’s debt is well known, easily understood, and widely accepted, particularly in Germany. Sacrifice, austerity and repayment are righteous, fair, and just.
That view is coloring this and next week’s coming meetings between Greece and its international lenders, and with European leaders. A revision of Greece’s debt terms has not been on the agenda.
European leadership insists that repayment is possible, and that Greece’s economy will take off, if only Greeks are willing to bite the bullet and economize. The quasi-religious ground under the wishful thinking on economic growth is that with deep financial pain comes high moral ground.
Exactly the opposite case makes far more sense …
In the aftermath of [World War II], Germany was the beneficiary of the largest debt restructuring deal in history. Today, German leaders have positioned themselves as the moral gatekeepers of justice in Europe, with a firm stance against any debt forgiveness. …
Related: The Greek Public Debt Problem
Greg Ip had a couple of pieces on currency wars and gyrations in the Wall Street Journal last week (here and here), essentially arguing that talk about currency warfare is much beside the point and that exchange rate gyrations are merely benevolent side-effects of monetary policies that will inevitably make the whole world better off. The Financial Times had an editorial on the ECB’s QE and the euro plunge that ran along the same lines, bluntly declaring that “any criticism from outside the eurozone that the fall in the single currency will kick off a global currency war [was] misplaced.” And Bloomberg summed it all up by proclaiming that the whole currency war talk is a “load of baloney,” fearing that the currency war nonsense talk might lead to trade restrictions, which would do real harm.
While the Financial Times sees no cause for alarm at all it seems, Greg Ip’s alarm bells would only go off if China were to retaliate by weakening the renminbi.
So there appears to be a consensus that all is currently for the best in all possible currency worlds. As ever so often, the consensus may be seriously off track here.
Consider Greg Ip’s main point, which is that monetary easing cannot do any harm by weakening a currency because it simply forces other central banks to follow suit, which eases the global monetary stance, which is all for the good. Well, the argument fails to distinguish situations in which all countries share common monetary policy requirements from situations in which that is not the case. The former kind of situation prevailed right after the Lehman bankruptcy, when the Federal Reserve’s easing provided the scope for a global monetary easing. This benevolent alignment didn’t last very long, however, as the U.S. monetary stance proved to be excessively easy for numerous countries in the emerging world — countries that may today be held back by the financial fragilities that were created at that time. Fast forward, recovery in the U.S. appears to be leading the world economy today, creating the opposite kind of challenges. So is the Federal Reserve prodding everyone else to tighten too, to the benefit of the world? Or are the ECB’s QE adventures prodding the Federal Reserve to change course, to the benefit of the world and the U.S.? If neither is the case, will the resulting exchange rate gyrations really benefit the wider world — unless China devalues its currency, that is?
The new consensus overlooks that it matters to the global economy whether important countries are mainly driven by domestic demand growth or mainly freeload on net exports.
The evolution of current account imbalances and contributions of net exports to GDP growth in the key countries featured in talks about currency wars is revealing.
The U.S. had persistent negative net exports GDP growth contributions and a rising current account deficit prior to the crisis of 2008-09. The crisis then halved the U.S. current account deficit. And post-crisis QE and dollar depreciation saw U.S. domestic demand growth stimulate (disappointingly meager) U.S. GDP growth while net exports made a broadly neutral contribution as the U.S. current account deficit was contained overall. Suffice to mention that U.S. energy production was an important swing factor in this outcome. The U.S. non-energy external balance has deteriorated with the U.S. recovery.
Japan ran huge current account surpluses prior to the crisis. As the favored carry-trade currency, the yen was cheap at the time. When crisis struck, the yen appreciated sharply at first, and Japan’s current account imbalance has since disappeared as net exports made negative GDP growth contributions in the last four years. More recently, the yen’s appreciation was partly reversed by means of QE starting in 2013 when the Japanese authorities also initiated a program to stimulate domestic demand.
The eurozone had a broadly balanced external position prior to the global crisis. Internally, however, diverging competitiveness positions led to huge imbalances, which then imploded. As the eurozone authorities’ policy response suffocated domestic demand, positive GDP growth contributions from net exports were the currency union’s only lifeline. The eurozone has a surging current account surplus, the biggest in the world today, with Germany and the Netherlands as the lead stars.
It is true that China had by far the biggest current account surplus prior to the global crisis. But China has also gone through by far the biggest rebalancing since. China’s current account surplus halved in absolute terms; in relative terms it plunged from 10 percent of GDP to roughly 2 percent within a short period of time. In fact, the country has experienced quite persistent negative GDP growth contributions from net exports since the crisis.
In essence, in the years since the global crisis, China was the number one global growth engine, while the eurozone was the world’s outstanding drag on growth, undermining a proper recovery. Germany’s bilateral trade and current account balances vis-à-vis China are in surplus today.
The latest monetary policy initiatives and currency gyrations should be read against this background. The consensus suggests that euro devaluation through the ECB’s belated QE is just fine, a measure for the general good of the world. Apparently the plunging euro is not designed to augment and sustain the eurozone’s freeloading on external growth; it is not the mechanism by which the eurozone exports its homemade mess to innocent bystanders. By contrast, as Greg Ip states explicitly, if the Chinese authorities were to devalue the renminbi, that could be seen as beggar-they-neighbor policy, an attempt to steal demand from their trading partners. Apparently, China is obliged to provide positive growth stimuli to the global economy and must not try to contain the damage that eurozone freeloading has on its development.
Surely Dr. Schäuble and Germany’s export industry can only applaud the new consensus. Never mind the shallow double standards on which it rests. Or do we all begin to adopt the kind of logic that prevails in Dr. Schäubles “parallel universe”* — making it yet another German export success?
* Back in September 2013, Dr. Schäuble famously suggested (see my comment) that critics of the brilliant eurozone crisis management undertaken under his stewardship were living in a “parallel universe where well-established economic principles no longer apply.” Eurozone crisis management has been so brilliant that the world now enjoys its fruits at a super-competitive euro exchange rate. Bravo! More cheerleading please.
The negotiations over Greece’s public debt and the terms of its bailout agreement have understandably taken center stage. Behind all the twists and turns, the key consideration is that even if the public debt could be repaid through continuing with austerity policies — and there is little reason to believe it can — it would still be a mistake, for both moral and pragmatic reasons. But dealing with Greek debt and the impossible terms of the agreement signed by the previous government is just the first step in dealing with Greece’s needless humanitarian crisis.
As noted, our own Rania Antonopoulos, senior scholar and director of the Levy Institute’s Gender Equality and the Economy program, has joined the new Syriza government as Deputy Minister of Labor. Particularly germane to her new role in helping to combat unemployment, Antonopoulos has done extensive research on direct job creation policies for Greece, featuring estimates of the macroeconomic and employment payoffs and the fiscal impact, as well as work on setting up systems of monitoring and evaluation.
At the last Minsky conference in Athens, she spoke about the necessity for a targeted job guarantee or employer-of-last-resort proposal in the context of the perilous state of the Greek labor market, including discussion of the scale of the program, estimated macroeconomic outcomes, and potential financing:
Antonopoulos was also recently interviewed by Deutsche Welle on the subject of this targeted direct job creation policy (the whole interview can be found here):
Have Greece’s existing job support programs been successful?
The problem with the existing programs is that they focus on reskilling. They offer a maximum of two months or 80 hours of pay support, with the intention of helping people get some initial work experience.
But the main problem in Greece is lack of aggregate demand and consequent lack of jobs, not lack of skills. In fact, large numbers of highly qualified professionals have been leaving the country. And 80 hours isn’t enough to learn a new professional skill anyway. Also, the agencies managing the retraining programs ate up 75 percent of the available budget. Only 25 percent went to the unemployed as wages.
What kind of jobs do you envision creating?
We’ll work with local communities and initiatives to identify socially useful jobs. A key aim is to match people’s existing skills with socially needed tasks. We also want to stimulate economic activities that move in the direction of the new government’s development priorities.
Those priorities include renewable energy and sustainable fisheries, cooperative structures for locally produced food, organic farming… Plenty of initiatives have sprung up, but they need some support. The unemployed people trying to make them happen would be very happy to have wage support until they become sustainable independent businesses.
La Asociación de Economía Crítica, ATTAC, Econonuestra y FUHEM Ecosocial le invitan a la sesión “Teoría monetaria moderna: ¿Austeridad presupuestaria frente a déficits públicos?”:
See also “Euroland’s Original Sin”