Denis Snower has a provocative (at least for me) piece in Süddeutsche Zeitung in which he writes as follows:
“When the American economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman says that the Eurogroup requirements for Greece go “beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief”, he does not derive his judgment from some firmly established economic theorem. When Joseph Stiglitz, another American Nobel laureate, says “What has been demonstrated is a lack of solidarity by Germany”, this is not an implication from some piece of analysis in his textbook. When five leading economists (Thomas Piketty, Jeffrey Sachs, Dani Rodrick, Heiner Flassbeck and Simon Wren-Lewis) write an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying that “Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger,” their perception does not come from rigorous theoretical and empirical analysis. Rather they are all expressing their feelings, which arise from their implicit sense of identity.”
Speaking for myself, I would disagree with the idea that our sentiments, however forcefully put, do not come from rigorous theoretical and empirical analysis. Greece is not the first country to borrow too much. As Jeffrey Sachs sets out here , examples from history (involving Latin America, Poland, Russia and Germany herself) show that “believing that indebted sovereign governments should always service their debts is a good working principle nine-tenths of the time, but can be a disaster the tenth time around. We must not push societies to the breaking point, even when they have only themselves to blame for their indebtedness.”
The theoretical analysis comes from not seeing this as just a zero sum game: as just a distributional struggle between Greece and her creditors. As a result of austerity, for every extra Euro that the creditors obtain right now from Greece, Greece loses resources that could amount to 4 Euros. (See here, footnote 2.) There are good macroeconomic reasons for believing that if this transfer to creditors is postponed, the cost to Greece will be much less. As is often the case with the austerity that the Troika demands, it is not evenly spread among the population, and the physical and mental health of Greek citizens has suffered as a result. Perhaps that knowledge influences the language that I and others have used, but it is a big mistake to believe that this passion is not firmly grounded in macroeconomic analysis and evidence.
Snower wants to play the sensible centrist. Unfortunately the current situation is not symmetrical. One side has all the power. One side has been dictating what has happened in Greece for the last five years. When we wrote “Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger” I think that is a pretty accurate description of the politics. Should the five of us who sent an open letter to Merkel have done the same to Tsipras? What would it have said exactly: best to give in now because the longer you resist the more you will be punished by the Troika?
In the media outside Greece, the discussion is always portrayed as the Eurozone governments lending Greece yet more money. Yet Greece is now in approximate primary surplus, so the negotiations were really all about how quickly the Troika should be paid back. If economists can do nothing else, they should at least make this point in public.
I understand that it is difficult for some economists to go against the nationalist feeling in Germany and other countries. But if your investment advisor had encouraged you to buy some overseas financial asset that later turned out to be worthless, would you refrain from criticising them just because they shared your nationality? Economists in Germany and elsewhere need to start asking awkward questions of their politicians. Why was it necessary for these politicians to use their voters money to bailout the banks and others who had foolishly lent to previous Greek governments? Why, when it was obvious to everyone in 2015 that Greece could not repay all its debt, did the Eurozone group refuse to allow debt relief to be part of the negotiations? And of Schäuble in particular, is it really right that Greece is used as an example so that he can impose his financial will on other Eurozone countries?
Dennis Snower may be correct that what I write about Greece expresses my identity. It reflects my identity as a macroeconomist, and hopefully my humanity in understanding the serious damage that bad macroeconomic decisions can have.
 Sachs is writing following a response to our original letter to Merkel from Dr. Ludger Schuknecht, senior economist at the German Finance Ministry.