Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Greece Today, America Tomorrow

"Are Europe and America headed to where Athens is today? ... Protected by the [US] through a half-century of Cold War, Europe cut back on defense and ratcheted up spending for La Dolce Vita. ... As the cradle-to-grave welfare states rose, an ever-increasing share of the labor force left the private sector for the security of the public sector. ... The fertility rate of Greece and every European nation fell below 2.1 births per woman needed to replace an existing population. Greece's birth rate has been below zero population growth for three decades. ... Were Greece a company, the solution would be bankruptcy. ... Because, should Greece decide not to take a chainsaw to her welfare state, but walk away from her debts and default, she would blow a hole in the balance sheets of the biggest banks in Europe. ... Rather than savage their welfare-state programs, and risk riots in the streets and a massacre at the polls, Madrid and Lisbon, too, might look ageeably at default. ... For how much longer will Greeks work longer, retire later and live on smaller pensions, so holders of Greek bonds can get their interest payments right on time? ... But the crisis will return. For the nations of Europe have made commitments beyond their capacity to keep, given their growing debts and aging population. ... And the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicare and federal pensions rival those of Western Europe. States like California and New York, larger than Greece, look a lot like Greece. ... While the temptation is great for Washington to bail them out again, the [US] government itself has now begun to attract the concerned notice of holders of US debt", my emphasis, Pat Buchanan at World Net Daily, 6 May 2010, link:

"Crisis--from the Greek word 'Krisis'--is one of the many English words we owe to the ancient Athenians. Now their modern descendants and reminding us what it really means. ... So serious was the situation that it took a European version of the 2008 TARP bailout of US banks to save the euro. ... If fully implemented, it will be the mother of all bailouts--and one of the biggest admissions of error in modern financial history. The design of the European currency has been fatally flawed from the outset. It just took the Greek crisis to expose it. .... It would end forever the exchange-rate volatility that has bedeviled the continent since the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in the 1970s. ... A single European currency also seemed to offer a sweet deal. Countries with excessive public debt would get German-style low inflation and interest rates. And the Germans could quietly hope that the euro would be a little weaker than their own super-strong Deutsche mark. ... But the worst defect in the design of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMY), we argued, was that it united Europe's currecies but left its fiscal policies completely uncoordinated. ... The design of the EMU illustrates a profoundly important truth about human institutions. Just because you don't create a formal procedure for something you would rather not happen, that doesn't mean it won't happen. ... Problem solved? Unfortunately not. ... For one thing, it's simply not credible that the Greek government will be able to deliver the fiscal tightening it has promised at a time of deep recession. ... It will surely be at least a year before investors wake up to the fact that the fiscal predicament of the [US] is actually worse than that of the euro zone", Niall Ferguson at Newsweek, 24 May 2010, link:

In about 1985 I remember reading a Fortune interview of Barton Biggs (BB). The substance of what BB said was, "The notion of 250 million South Americans slaving away in the hot sun to repay some New York banks does not comport with my notion of political reality". Well said BB Mine neither. Between now and 2017 I expect the "Venezuelanization" of most of Europe and the US. Got bonds? Sell while there's still time.

I disagree with NF. The Greek bailout did not save the euro. It saved banks holding Greek paper. It will kill the euro. There is nothing any European country could have done with respect to taxing and spending before the coming of the euro it couldn't do after. The euro was and is a "whole lotta nuttin". The euro was sold as a piece of financial engineering!


Anonymous said...

Olivier Blanchard says to raise the target inflation rate.

Presto -- print away the debt.

Sure Olivier. Solves the debtholders problems.

Anonymous said...

Awesome article! I've been a keen spectator of the coming demographic crisis. I had no idea how it all fits together with the financial crisis.