Archive for the ‘Eurozone Crisis’ Category

Euroland Has No Plan B: It Needs an Urgent Recovery Plan

Jörg Bibow | September 8, 2015

At last, the eurozone economy appears to be experiencing some kind of recovery. GDP started growing again in the spring of 2013, following seven quarters of decline, with domestic demand shrinking for even nine consecutive quarters between 2011 and 2013. Today, it is conceivable that within a year or so the eurozone might recoup its pre-crisis level of GDP, perhaps marking the end of a “lost decade.”

But it is too soon to declare victory and become complacent. The eurozone remains fragile and the recovery uneven. Having primarily relied on export demand for its meagre growth since 2010, developments in China and elsewhere in the emerging world are posing an acute threat. More recently home-grown demand benefited from peculiar tailwinds that are temporary in nature. It is unclear at this point whether these forces will merge into a stronger self-sustaining recovery, while the likelihood of renewed and spreading political instability along the way keeps rising. It seems unwise, in fact hazardous, not to have a plan B ready at hand should growth falter once again.

Bibow_Plan B_Fig 1

Figure 1 shows index values for GDP, gross capital formation, final consumption, exports, and imports, all relative to their respective levels in the first quarter of 2008. Remarkably, only exports have seen some real recovery. Gross capital formation, on the other hand, remains stuck at a severely depressed level to this day, while final consumption is only slightly ahead of its pre-crisis peak. Clearly, the eurozone owes it largely to the rest of the world that it has not sunk into even deeper depression.

The gaping external imbalance that has built up since the crisis quantifies the extent to which the eurozone has weakened and undermined the global recovery in recent years. Its soaring external surplus has required other countries to “over-spend” accordingly. As numerous over-spenders appear overstretched at this point, the eurozone’s external imbalance also signifies its own vulnerability to a deteriorating global environment. In a way, the ongoing deterioration in the global environment also reflects the fact that the driving forces of global growth have come full circle, and seem exhausted and spent today – unlikely to fire up again any time soon. continue reading…


Crystal Balls, or Robust Economic Research?

Gennaro Zezza | July 16, 2015

An article from Bloomberg listed nine people who saw the Greek crisis coming years ago. The list may be narrowly confined to Anglo-Saxon economists, but I am quite happy that most of the people listed worked at, or were/are affiliated with, the Levy Institute.

Wynne Godley

Wynne Godley is the first on the list, given his prescient words in the London Review of Books in October 1992. I am happy I contributed to spreading his thoughts in Italy.

Mat Forstater

Mat Forstater is a friend I regularly meet at the annual Minsky Summer Seminar at Levy.

Stephanie Kelton

Stephanie Kelton, now chief economist on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, was often at the Minsky Seminar, before her latest appointment.

Randy Wray

Stephanie worked with Randy Wray, who is among the most prolific and influential economists at Levy.

If so many economists doing research together got it right on Greece (as well as on the 2007 recession) maybe it is not by the power of crystal balls, but because of robust, consistent economic thinking?


Deflation Über Alles

Michael Stephens | July 15, 2015

The “negotiations” that surrounded the latest Greek deal do not reflect well on the system (such as it is) of EMU governance. And there are no silver linings to be found in the outcome of this process. It is a testament to how far we are from “normal” that even the best-case scenario would have left little room for optimism. Even if Greece had received a sensible package — one involving debt restructuring and a pause in austerity — this would still have meant an intolerably long period of high unemployment. (“Even if the Greek economy were to miraculously bounce back to its precrisis growth rate, it would take almost a decade and a half to return to precrisis employment levels.” p. 3 [pdf])

Moreover, the particulars of the Greek situation aside, it is important to recall how far we are from a resolution of the broader eurozone crisis, which will arguably not end until the fundamentally flawed euro setup — of which the Greek crisis is a symptom — is addressed. In this vein, Pavlina Tcherneva recently spoke to Richard Aldous of The American Interest about the latest Greek deal and the “stateless currency” that is the euro (listen to the podcast here).

Tcherneva also touched on an aspect of this broader theme in her recent RT interview. In the clip below she links the “deflationary environment” in the eurozone to the absence of a central fiscal authority:



(See here for a proposal for Greece that aims to [temporarily] relieve the constraints rooted in the divorce of fiscal policy from monetary sovereignty: by funding a direct job creation program through the creation of a parallel currency.)

National animosities and idiosyncratic personalities aside, the blame for the underlying crisis ultimately falls on the very structure of the EMU. This is why it was possible for figures like Wynne Godley to have seen this coming decades ago.


Papadimitriou on Making an Example of Greece (Audio)

Michael Stephens | July 8, 2015

From Athens, Dimitri Papadimitriou spoke with Ian Masters about Tuesday’s emergency meeting in Brussels (attended by Greece’s new finance minister)  and the country’s prospects going forward.

Papadimitriou touched on both the economic and political facets of the crisis, and discussed the idea that Greece is being “taught a lesson” as a demonstration to the rest of the eurozone (think Spain and Podemos) that the “wrong type of government” will not be allowed to succeed. Listen/download here.


Euro Union – Quo Vadis?

Jörg Bibow | July 3, 2015

This week a slow-motion train wreck hit the wall in Europe. Greece’s Syriza government came to power earlier this year on a mandate to keep Greece in the euro but end austerity. It was clear from the start that this project could only work out if Greece’s euro partners finally acknowledged that their austerity policies of the past five years had failed and that it was about time to change course and actually start helping Greece to recover.

This was not such an outrageous proposition. Any sane and economically literate person would consider a 25-percent decline in GDP and a youth unemployment rate north of 50 percent as evidence that the utterly brutal troika-imposed austerity experiment had backfired badly. Any European of normal emotional disposition would look at the humanitarian crisis in Greece with horror and shame. Yes, this is really happening in Europe, inside the European Union, in the 21stcentury! There was a time when Europeans appealed to their common destiny and spelled solidarity in capital letters. There was a time when Europe felt strongly that its future place in the world would only be one of peace and prosperity if the nations and peoples of Europe respected each other and joined forces to act constructively and in unison – “united in diversity.”

Not so anymore. In Berlin, Germany, in Dr. Schäuble’s “parallel universe,” austerity works always and everywhere, and the more the better – no matter what the facts might say on this planet. If anything went wrong in Greece, it must be the Greeks’ own fault, 100 percent. Because the Greeks are lazy, corrupt, and untrustworthy – as Germany’s rotten media, plagued by inhumanly stupid economic journalism, have been preaching to the German public for many years now. So the Germans believe what “Mama” Merkel tells them. And the Germans even believe that their finance minister represents unquestionable economic wisdom and rectitude: the only finance minister on earth who understands how to “balance the budget” year after year so as to protect their grandchildren from the evils of debt. These profound illusions and delusions are proving a catastrophe for Europe (and beyond). Once again, the collective folly of the German people risks exposing Europe to the naked forces of barbarism.

What went wrong? continue reading…


Why Greece’s Budget and Debt Restructuring Discussions Need to Be Tied Together

Michael Stephens | July 2, 2015

Pavlina Tcherneva spoke to RT’s Erin Ade yesterday on Greece’s impossible situation:


Greek Debt Disaster Bodes Ill for Daily Life

Pavlina Tcherneva | June 25, 2015

“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.


On Demands for Greek “Reform”

Michael Stephens | June 16, 2015

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 …).


Time to End Europe’s Disgrace of Holding Greek People Hostage

Jörg Bibow | June 12, 2015

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.

Shared responsibility

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 Greece Has Been “Helped”

Gennaro Zezza | April 10, 2015

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)
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014* Sum
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.