In purely economic terms, and on the surface, the Euro crisis appears to be over. The recovery has gained in both strength and depth. Unemployment is now below its pre-crisis average. A number of former crisis-hit countries are staging an impressive recovery. Public debt ratios are coming down and the ECB is preparing to wind up its QE program by the end of the year. Nonetheless the recent meeting between Chancellor Merkel and President Macron in Meseberg, Brandenburg in the run-up to the forthcoming European Council meeting on 27-29 June can still rightly be seen as crucial. Economic misery continues, especially in Greece and Italy, but the deep wounds of the crisis have yet to heal in many countries. More fundamentally, the recovery hides the fact that major structural issues remain unresolved. The recent crisis of government formation in Italy illustrated this well, leading to a major spike in interest rates not only in the third-largest EMU-economy, with its low growth and debt ratio north of 130% of GDP, but also in other countries like Spain, with much lower debt and fast growth. The risk of contagion and of break-up has clearly not gone away. The recovery has merely papered over the cracks; but every recovery in history has given way to a downturn. The Euro Area, as currently institutionalised and with debt ratios still high, monetary policy highly expansionary, and political trust in short supply, cannot withstand a renewed downturn. [Read more…]
A definition of chutzpah is murdering your parents and then claiming social benefits as an orphan. It is not widely recognised, but the IMF illustrates similar brazenness in the current debate on Greece’s debt burden.
While not exactly pretending to be an orphan, the IMF is currently getting a lot of sympathy for its position: it has come out increasingly strongly in favour of debt relief for Greece. On realistic assumptions the debt burden is unsustainable. The country can only recover if there is substantial debt relief. Its most recent debt sustainability analysis claims it was forced to provide loans when the euro crisis broke, alongside European institutions, against its better judgement, but now only massive debt relief will work.
Its realism has been welcomed, and contrasted favourably with the EU (and its German paymasters), which against all reason are insisting on more-or-less full repayment of past loans. In so doing the IMF has been feted by Greek commentators, the many EU citizens/taxpayers sympathetic to the plight of Greek citizens, and much informed economics commentary.
One certainly does not need to think of the IMF as a murderer. But one should be aware of three things. First the IMF was not simply an innocent [Read more…]