If you think this sentiment is dangerous, because you have read that if this left wing party formed a government after the forthcoming Greek elections the Eurozone would be plunged into crisis, I suspect you should reconsider where you get your information from. Here is why.
Syriza wants to reduce the burden of Greek government debt by various means, which would clearly benefit Greece and mean losses for its creditors. Its bargaining position is strong because the government is running a primary surplus. This means that if all debt was written off and the Greek government was unable to borrowing anything more, it would be immediately better off because taxes exceed government spending. In contrast the creditors’ position in such a situation is normally very weak, which is why some kind of deal is usually done to reduce the debt burden. Creditors take a hit, but not as bad a hit as they would if all debt was written off.
It might appear as if the creditors have an extra card in this particular case - they can throw Greece out of the Eurozone. Be absolutely clear, that is a threat being made by the creditors. Greece under Syriza has no intention of leaving the Euro, even if they defaulted on all their debt, so they would have to be forced out. I have never seen it set out clearly how the rest of the Eurozone would force Greece to leave without compromising the independence of the ECB, but let’s assume that they have the power to do so. Would the Eurozone ever carry out this threat?
Expelling Greece from the Eurozone because they wanted to renegotiate their debts would be an incredibly stupid thing to do. For a start, the creditors would lose everything, because obviously Greece would go for complete default in those circumstances. In addition, individuals and markets would immediately worry that the same fate might befall other periphery countries. (The story that Dani Rodrik tells is all too plausible.) What would be the gain?
The standard answer is that by exercising this threat you prevent other periphery countries trying to follow Greece’s example. Moral hazard - the sins that have been committed in your name! In reality the interest rate on part of Greek debt has already been reduced in earlier negotiations (see also Andrew Watt here). There is nothing compelling the core countries to treat each periphery country equally - as Ireland has found out to its cost. Peter Spiegel puts it clearly in the FT:
“How radical is Mr Tsipras’ idea of a Paris Club-style debt restructuring? So radical that, according to three officials involved in the discussions, eurozone officials actively considered such a plan in late 2012. The French-led initiative would have led to Greece’s debt obligations being cut in tranches — much the same way bailout aid is granted — after meeting a series of economic reform commitments.”
So even if some in Germany were stupid and cruel enough to suggest throwing Greece out, it seems inconceivable that the rest of the Eurozone (or the IMF) would allow it. In reality reducing the debt burden in Greece (and probably elsewhere ) would do the Eurozone a lot of collective good. Greece would be able to relax the crippling austerity that has had disastrous economic and social consequences. The core countries and the IMF could at least partially undo the mistakes they made from 2010 to 2012 in first delaying default, and then failing to impose a complete default, mistakes IMF staff  at least now recognise. German taxpayers might be encouraged to understand that the problem since 2010 has not been Greek intransigence but the actions of their own governments in trying to protect their own banks and in dispensing unrealistic degrees of austerity. Philippe Legrain argues the case in detail here. As Thomas Piketty succinctly puts it, Syriza “want to build a democratic Europe, which is what we all need”.
Following a post like this I invariably get comments that tell me about all the terrible things that still go on in Greece. I want to make two final points here. First, if things have not changed following years of acute austerity in Greece, might this mean that we need something else besides more acute austerity? Might it mean we need a move away from the traditional governing elites?  Second, a widely recognised measure of fiscal stance is the underlying (cyclically corrected) primary balance (the deficit less debt interest). Here is the OECD’s latest estimate for 2014. Do not complain that Greece is backsliding on austerity! And before you tell me that the law must be followed, read a post I am proud I wrote.
|Underlying government primary balances 2014, OECD estimates|
 The preliminary decision of the ECJ today might have been much more dangerous. For an excellent discussion prior to the judgement see Ashoka Mody.
 Barry Eichengreen and Ugo Panizza doubt whether the primary surpluses that some countries would need to run without more debt relief are politically feasible. I’m a little more optimistic, but that is different from saying that some debt renegotiation would not be beneficial in the longer term.
 There would be the added bonus of seeing a well known economic blogger become a politician!
 My initial version just said IMF, but as Peter Doyle reminds me, this staff critique was not endorsed by IMF management.
I agree with this post completely and find myself despairing at some of the coverage Greece has gotten in the press, as an example:ReplyDelete
However, while investors know the current coalition government will work to ensure Greece remains on the right track and stick to the spending and reform measures laid out in the country's bailout program, Syriza remains a highly risky unknown quantity.
People seem to be blissfully unaware of the huge costs to the Greek people of remaining on "the right track".
Boombust has an interview with Yanis Varoufakis https://t.co/ApejqWncWE He is clearly not yet quite ready to be a politician. But will the right ideas help in the process of negotiating and haggling, where delaying tactics have shown to be extremely powerful to allow nothing much to happen for a very long time? And in the EU everybody has a veto. Delay is simple.ReplyDelete
If the Eurozone tries that, they have learnt nothing from 2010.Delete
Alas, evidence that the Eurozone has understood anything from 2010 is VERY scarce ... :(Delete
Politicians and elites might but the streets are waking up to the lies they are being sold by the media that is in bed with the establishment. The primary one being that we need a centralized Europe, that this is the future, that this is being progressive. When it's just a dead-end road, a steamroller to crush European cultural diversity.Delete
First the currency, then power structure and in the end it's languages and cultures. We should harmonize more, eh?
Greece can't be thrown out of the eurozone but can be frozen out of ECB monetary operations and ELA simply if doesn't have collateral, the case without agreement with the Troika.ReplyDelete
Which implies being thrown out of the Eurozone. Greece will be better off then, and a precedent will have been established. Rest of Southern European countries are likely to follow suit quickly.Delete
One has to distinguish between the EU, which is a political association, and the Eurozone, which is an economic association. I don't belief Greece would want to be forced out of either one. Its highly unlikely that Greece will be forced out of the EU if it refuses to pay its debt, though Germany may throw a tantrum.Delete
IMO, the only way that Greece can be forced out of the Eurozone is if the ECB refuse to be its central banker anymore. Its likely that Greece will retaliate by refusing to pay any debt owed to the ECB. But this is also very unlikely since the ECB can then rightfully be considered an irresponsible banker and it would loose huge credibility, nevermind that other Eurozone nations may begin questioning their trust in the ECB.
I really like the point about structural reform macroeconomic stability. I suppose if we've had dramatic structural reforms in this country, it would be in the late 1940s under Labour and the mid-to-late 1980s under the Tories. In both cases, there was a fair amount of macroeconomic stability, at least relative to Greece.ReplyDelete
It's unlikely to happen, but a combination of a positive AD shock and structural reform could really work some wonders in Greece. Beneath the structural problems and the huge cyclical unemployment, there's a lot of potential there.
In my mind, debt forgiveness and the Grexit should have happened together some time ago already. A fresh start for Greece, and a new conception of the Euro, not as a tool to force political union, but as a consequence of it. I think Rodrik is a bit overdramatic when it comes to Spain. Greece was a singular case.ReplyDelete
if greece's economy takes off after it exits from the EMU, what would you expect from Spain.Delete
May I ask what you think would be the best option for Greece? Provided that some kind of default will happen anyway, should Greece do it while remaining in the Euro or should Greece do it and leave the Euro? In the second scenario the country could regain some external competitiveness after the default, in the first it would still be left with an overvalued RER at any subsequent fiscal expansion would again deteriorate the CA. What is your take?ReplyDelete
The best option may be keeping the euro AND introducing a parallel national currency in the form of tax credit certificates, to expand demand and to reduce unit labor costs (via a lower tax wedge) - thus avoiding current account imbalances.Delete
Your idea is good up to a point, but isnt sufficant enough to avoid imbalances. Without an increase in production from within Greece to support its debt and to be able to pay even lower taxes this will eventually lead to a decline and the slow ''death' of Greece. No country can survive on giving services alone, as is the case of Greece today.Delete
Greece generated a € 4 bln trade surplus in 2014. Producing more while avoiding trade imbalances only require them to expand demand and to reduce taxes. Which they can do by issuing their own currency. It can be done alongside the euro, thus avoiding a breakup.Delete
I think this might be a little bit off-topic, but I'll ask it nonetheless: what do you think would happen if ECB suddenly stopped financing greek banks?ReplyDelete
We hear very often that greek banks would immediatly go bankrupt and Greece would have to leave euro by itself. I have been hearing this argument over and over, but I am note quite sure it is acurate. Because, altough greek banks do depend heavily of ECB borrowing, they are no longer "net borrowing" from the ECB - all of their ECB loans are used to refinance maturing loans, with total liabilities decreasing steadily.
So as far as I can see, if the ECB were to exclude greek banks from its lending facilities it would probably be the ECB to get the biggest hit (greek loans would have to be recognised as losses). What am I missing here?
I agree, the ECB would then be seen as an irresponsible banker; they will loose a lot of credibility and trust, effectively ensuring that the ECB will become a toothless organisation if it don't cease to exist (IMHO, likely to take 3-5 years at most).Delete
Very frankly, Greece would be much better of with its own currency and central bank. Greece needs less austerity, yes. But without massive monetary easing, it will not work. Within the Euro Area, budgetary easing could even backfire if it leads to monetary tightening in the form of capital flightReplyDelete
why are legit comments deleted? this is free journalism and freedom of speach?ReplyDelete
I have not deleted any comments!Delete
I appologise, seemed it was posted then I logged on again and was not there so I concluded it must of been taken down.Delete
So many professional analysts but noone can explain 2 things.ReplyDelete
1) Since 1974 why did the GDP decline in Greece every year bringing us to todays catastrophy. too much democracy? Of course no political leader since has even mentioned that every year since 1974 Greece has yet to have a surplus (the only country in europe, and maybe in the world). Hard to believe they ''missed'' that unintentionally just to see it a few years ago when the bubble burst
2) Given that every year the deficit increases despite help from Greece's creditors, what good will come of a country who's deficit rises every year as we speak.
When these questons get answered with honesty, maybe just maybe people will learn to trust governments.
This isn't about honesty. This is about the power crave that the idea of a United States of Europe induces. Power centralization. People are on the hook for that are willing to make sacrifices, even break the constitution of european nation states apart. And they are selling us Europeans that we need power centralization to be brothers and friends. I'm not to be blinded by this rhetoric.Delete
Anyway, it has all the makings of a european civil war between supporters and opponents of the USE. We supporters of a European confederation of sovereign states won't budge. The only way to avoid violence 5 or 10 or 15 years down the road is if Karlsruhe stops this craziness and forces the German government to hold an election regarding its future in Europe.
"Since 1974 why did the GDP decline in Greece every year"Delete
"Of course no political leader since has even mentioned that every year since 1974 Greece has yet to have a surplus (the only country in europe, and maybe in the world)"
I am sure that Portugal never had a surplus since 1974 also.
real GDP increased in Greece every year from 1995 through 2007Delete
(I have no idea why the series starts so late).
Italy has had a deficit every year since 1932. http://www.blia.it/debitopubblico/
a) "Its bargaining position is strong because the government is running a primary surplus."ReplyDelete
Presuming the numbers are true. I'd like to test them out in actuality.
b) "I have never seen it set out clearly how the rest of the Eurozone would force Greece to leave without compromising the independence of the ECB, but let’s assume that they have the power to do so."
Is this a joke? In politics, nearly everything is subject to negotiations. Anything that doesn't threaten to end up in incarcerations or ousting from power, that is.
c) "German taxpayers might be encouraged to understand that the problem since 2010 has not been Greek intransigence but the actions of their own governments in trying to protect their own banks and in dispensing unrealistic degrees of austerity."
d) 'As Thomas Piketty succinctly puts it, Syriza “want to build a democratic Europe, which is what we all need”.'
He should speak for himself. We have a Europe and we have democracy in Europe. That's as good as it gets. I need diversity in Europe, not more centralization and standardization. The idea of a United States of Europe is a dystopie. All hail the one European language! Let's erase century old traditions! The power centralization is surely worth it.
e) General remarks: No solution that does not ensure that such a situation does not repeat itself (beyond the hollow lip service we have gotten so far) will pacify the German tax payer. We don't care about empty rhetorics. We want cold, hard and reliable guarantees. Guarantees that cannot be subject to later renegotiation. If Greece can't deliver that, then to hell with it. Same for the incarnation of Europe that some are aiming for.
Anonymous14 January 2015 at 13:21Delete
I fully subscribe to your commentary.
SWL's posts on Greece are interesting human documents that tell us more about his emotions than economics. German policy seems far more common-sensical than anything he proposes.
As for governments protecting their banks, that is what every government has to do because their voters' money is the banks' hands.
Actually, there were discussions in the German government in 2010 about leting Greece go (default). It would have cheaper to compensate German banks for their Greek losses than the sums it had to engage later. The real point was that French and Italian banks were more heavily engaged in Greece than German ones so that Greek default would have hurt those economies and governments harder than Germany. That is why its government agreed to sacrifices in the interest of saving the Eurozone.
The Greeks have no one to complain about except themselves.
Italian banks exposure to Greece was less than 20% than Germany's.Delete
I dunno, I'm just a stupid, fat American (actually skinny but you get the point).ReplyDelete
I don't see how this ends well. There was an old joke: if your keys fall into a river of lava, letem go., They're gone.
This Euro thing seems like those keys.
Frankly I think the main problems with the Euro are those too productive Germans. They wanted to keep the Deutsche Mark . I say bring back the Deutsche Mark not the Drachma.Delete
I am not 100% joking. Germexit would be followed by rapid appreciation of the restored DM which would make the rest of Europe competitive. There would be a negative aggregate demand shock for Germany (but I mean 5% unemployment) and a risk of deflation.
I am not 0% joking either. Of course Germexit would be hugely disruptive. I don't think it could be done at all without capital controls (nor could Grexit) which violate a key EU principle. But the current approach to currency isn't working.
The Buba can always depreciate after a dropout of Germany, don't worry. If there is one thing central banks can do, it is weakening the currency. And for a transitionary period, I suppose this would be okay.Delete
I'm sorry but you are completely clueless regarding Greek political economy, and the mirage that is the primary surplus. No one should ever be as sure as you are about something you know so little of (and that includes what Germany will do). Overall I am a fan but this post is weak it makes me wonder about the rest.ReplyDelete
As you will see from the links, it appears others are clueless too. Why don't you enlighten us with something a bit more substantial than dismissal?Delete
Well for one, as is typical for small, heretofore unimportant countries, pundits in the US and the large European countries know little about local politics. Syriza is a very new party in a sense, as it was only a coalition until very recently. It houses some very Marxist elements who believe Greece would be fine leaving the eurozone. Thankfully Tsipras is not one of them but they certainly do have a clout in the party and could threaten to leave if there is any compromise, toppling the government again. It is also becoming harder for Tsipras to backtrack from his pre-election promises, especially if he manages to win a majority vote.Delete
So your view of a Syriza as a unified actor is very much misplaced. Party discipline could prevail (after all, the former Communist party members are very reliable in that respect) but this is highly uncertain at the moment. Bear in mind that Tsipras has been very inconsistent in what he has said abroad and domestically (there is a monicker now), compounding such uncertainty. Also bear in mind that Syriza by now includes a large constituency of former PASOK members and supporters, who formed an important part of the cliental state that led to the current mess.
Second, the primary surplus really is a mirage, having been achieved by huge arrears on the part of the state. Basically in Greece if you are owed any money by the state you know you will not get it back for years. Since the crisis this has been happening even for state employees. Doctors for instance are routinely paid three and four months late.
As for the EU issues, it is crystal clear now that in 2012 Greece was a hick-up away from being forced to exit. We can talk all day about how likely this is to happen now, but as the contagion risk from a Grexit is surely lower now, the possibility has to be entertained. You maybe very proven right in the end, but your certainty of the multi-player game played between a future Tsipras government and Germany is I fear misplaced.
Finally, of course you are entitled to your opinion, but you do not bear the risk of a Grexit, or, even if it does not come to that, a bail-in of deposits (which has been suggested a few times by Syriza members).
This criticism is with all due respect. As an economist and a native of Greece leaving abroad I have encountered several well meaning people through the past few years who do not grasp exactly how rotten and polarised the Greek political system is, unlike anything in Western Europe. I really hope you are correct, but overconfidence is misplaced.
I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I thought Syriza was a unified actor - I was aware of everything you say. The issue with the primary surplus is would Greece be better off with complete default. The more its fiscal actions (like those you mention) are required simply to service debt, the stronger its bargaining position becomes. In addition, outside the Eurozone Greece would have the ability to get rid of its output gap. I know this is not something Greece wants to do, but I'm not sure this is something it should fear as much as you suggest.Delete
I am also aware of what you say about 2012 - I remember writing a very angry post at the time about this. But this time at least this is not a game that will be played with Germany alone. There is no way that the other Eurozone members will allow Germany to break up the Eurozone over some principle over debt renegotiation when that principle has already been breached!
Of course it could all go wrong - Syriza could overplay its hand, or its unity could fall apart. But as a debtor that no longer needs additional loans, it would be crazy for Greece not to bargain.
Even with a primary surplus Greece has no bargaining position. It doesn't want to pay its debts? Fine, Greek government debt is now under London law, and its creditors can pretty much put a lien on the whole country if there is failure to repay.Delete
Of course we (well, they really) should bargain. But the bargaining power is I'm afraid very tilted to the other side, for the following reasons.Delete
a) "There is no way that the other Eurozone members will allow Germany to break up the Eurozone over some principle over debt renegotiation when that principle has already been breached!"
I wouldn't be so sure. The Finnish politics are particularly problematic right now. But my understanding is that Schauble is so powerful right now that Eurogroup meetings are basically a charade.
b) You do not address my point about the arrears, which really make the primary surplus a mirage. Essentially, the state has transferred the imbalance to the private sector. The most fun of those is arrears for VAT, which the state is simply not refunding (for intermediate imports from non-EU which are exported to EU).
c) And these issues aside, even if all goes well and good and the surplus is correct, there is a very real liquidity issue in March. No one is going to lend a government that has just denied debt payback to its partners.
d) Finally, the ECB has the ultimate bargaining chip, refusal to accept Greek debt as collateral.
Very interesting comments fp3690. It is good to read a differing view supported by detailed facts.Delete
If I had written "The sharp but effectual remedy" post, I would be proud too. I don't know how I missed it at the time, and I wish more people read it.ReplyDelete
This post is also excellent.
One can differ about that.Delete
Which is "The sharp but effectual remedy" post you admire? The search function is no help.
"Which is "The sharp but effectual remedy" post you admire? The search function is no help."Delete
I take that back. I've found it.
In fact, it is to this I wrote above:
"SWL's posts on Greece are interesting human documents that tell us more about his emotions than economics."
C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'économie politique.
Well, what I said a month ago has come to pass: the SNB has given up on its peg. The SNB is in the process of losing 60-100 Billion today. Good chance that the next up is: attack on the BOE. It's not going to be pretty, because the BOE is going to be hamstrung before the election.ReplyDelete
Actually, Denmark will be next. Something tells me that the Danes are really, really going to regret that they didn't join the euro when they could have.Delete
Nobody regrets not having joined the euro and nobody will. Oh btw Denmark could join. But they won't.Delete
Anonymus, you need to have a peg in order to be "attacked". As far as I am aware BoE does not keep any peg, hence it is under no threat because it is not defending the ER. Denmark on the other hand...the other Anonymous may be right. They kept a uselessly rigid ER, they may end up like Switzerland sooner or later.Delete
As LB Smaghi has pointed out, Greek interest payments are relatively low at the moment - ca. 4% GDP. Would reducing this to say, 2%, through a debt write down be game changer? I doubt it.ReplyDelete
I think that Greece would be much better off outside the Euro (but within the EU). While it might be a bitter pill for some Greeks to swallow (those Greeks with lots of Euro), it would allow the country to gain competiveness much much quicker and would be a path to restoring employment.
"As Thomas Piketty succinctly puts it, Syriza “want to build a democratic Europe, which is what we all need”.ReplyDelete
Absolutely, the case for fiscal union is linked with political union. You cannot have decisions concerning major fiscal transfers involving the reallocation of national savings from one member to another unless this is part of a democratic process in which all parties (both disbursers and recipients) have an input. Really democratisation, political union and fiscal union has to be done together.
Really a politically integrated democratic Europe is the best solution. This beats the second best solution - independent states with separate currencies (the pre-Euro situation). The first best solution allows for political participation in which all have a stake in seeing the best outcome for the union as a whole , AND, the institutional integration that allows for transfers of capital from where it is overly abundant to where it is needed. I think this is probably Polanyi's line of thinking.
That is what Chancellor Kohl said in 1991.Delete
If the others had only followed his advice.
Your arguments are puzzling. You ask "...we need something else besides more acute austerity?" I guess the answer is yes, we must stop this austerity madness as you have brilliantly argued in previous writings of yours. But then you claim that the primary surplus is the vehicle to impose this position in negotiations over the debt. One can't help thinking what brought this surplus about. Surely not Syriza. And what will it take to sustain the surplus, especially in the face of a collapsing social security system and extensive bank recapitalization needs? Surely not the policies of Syriza that have promised everyone all they want. Then what justifies the title of your post that we should hope for a Syriza victory? Really strange.ReplyDelete
Do you agree that Greece now has a much stronger bargaining position because it is running surpluses? Do you think it should make use of that to renegotiate the terms of its debt in its favour?Delete
Yes, but Syriza proposes policies that are bound to eliminate these surpluses, that is, to eliminate Greece' strong point in a possible negotiation. Then, what makes Syriza suitable for this task?Delete
Signs of resistance against the neoliberal catastrophe in EuropeReplyDelete
Holy mackerel, Greece has a primary surplus of almost 8 percent?!ReplyDelete
Somebody better call Merkel and inform her just how weak Germany's bargaining position is.
The European Union experiment controlled by a group of member states ECB central bankers has bailed out insolvent banks using its depositors and taxpayers money repeatedly. Greece was lied to, like all other member states, then its populations were forced to pay off the banks debts with Austerity measures that destroyed the economy of many countries, and always has.ReplyDelete
Now Greece has elected an anti Austerity Government, and now holds several Ace cards. The first being that other countries populations like Spain, Portugal, Italy, will look at repeating the same process since the future is extremely bleak for the populations of these European member states and others.
Mario Draghi, then put paid to the future of all member states earlier when he again passed the debt burden to ordinary citizens again with Quantitative easing (bailing out the banks) €60bn a month for two year, devaluing the Euro plus inflationary measures to counter Deflation.
This is now known by well-nigh everyone as a measure to inflate away Governments debts who guarantee, or bought banks debts, (using taxpayers money). In the hope that Europe's population will pay higher prices for everything. This is certain to fail since so little free cash exists for ordinary people to spend after repeated bouts of Austerity predestined to destroy any countries economy.
Greece will now amongst other Austerity destroyed countries start a ball rolling and it will be extremely dangerous for the IMF, Troika, ECB, UN, World Bank, BIS, or any other to threaten this new Government with any measures designed to make Greece's people capitulate.
I dont understand the discussion. In history Greece defaulted many times. What's new?ReplyDelete
When do they start to make their own living?
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