Euro Blackmail

The Greek election results are the perfect answer to the IMF’s, ECB’s and European Commission’s pledge to defend the eurozone at any cost, and their repeated claims that they are willing to exchange any asset against euros in order to reignite the anemic economies of the area and prevent another sovereign debt crisis. So, in effect, the Greeks are saying : you want to buy junk ? Here it is ! Where is the money ? It would be foolish of them to continue their painful austerity policies when they can instead get their deficits financed by using one of the facilities offered by the ECB under the “save the euro” motto. Conditionality is supposed to apply, but the ECB has given every hint that it would yield to blackmail, so why should the Greeks refrain from it ?

The relative lack of reaction of the euro/dollar exchange rate baffles me. Markets do not seem to understand the significance of the Greek election results.

The most favorable scenario would be Greece being kicked out of the Eurozone, defaulting on its debt, and starting over again at a depreciated exchange rate, with a balanced government budget (although Syriza would be unlikely to run a balanced budget) and a depreciated currency that would allow export demand to make up for the fall in domestic spending. Hopefully, after a couple of years of recovery and virtuous fiscal policies, Greece could borrow again on international markets, and even repay its original creditors a little bit. But the episode would set up a precedent, and bring about the possibility of renewed attacks on the sovereign debt of other euro area countries, under the belief that such attacks would lead to their exit from the currency area. This would be 2010-2011 all over again.

At the opposite of the spectrum, the troïka may yield to blackmail as Syriza reverts to primary deficits following a string of demagogical policy measures. The ECB will pose as responsible while running a Ponzi game, purchasing all the debt issued by the Greeks. The Greeks will do just fine, like a teenager, because they will be spending the taxpayer money from other European countries, through the mutualization scheme implicit in the ECB debt purchases. Things will eventually turn nasty as the electorate in other countries – Portugal, Spain, Italy, France – will conclude that blackmail works better than austerity and vote for their own populist parties. The ECB will find itself compelled to issue more money, and it will have lost any credibility regarding its ability to control the price level. Inflation will pick up and the euro will continue to fall. German consumers and pensioners will then increasingly favor a German exit, as it would occur at an appreciated exchange rate, thus improving solvency and purchasing power.

Finally, an intermediate scenario is that the troïka refuses to continue to purchase Greek debt unless the government goes ahead with austerity. This will be a casus belli, likely to trigger immediate default as the Greek government will revert to primary deficits. Since it will then be unable to borrow, it will want to exit the euro area so as to be able to monetize its own deficits.

I suppose the euro establishment believes that Syriza will turn out as  Lula or Menem style leftists, that is, they will renege on their most demagogical campaign promises and continue to pursue austerity.  They forget that Lula and Menem did not have a foreign entity with a wide open cheque book for them.

There is no such thing as bad publicity

One of the big frustrations of my life was not to be cited in those books that regularly come out in France and complain about economists being stupid, ignorant, or evil lackeys of capitalism. This always gave me a sense of failure. For this reason, I am happy to learn that I am one of the “architects of the ongoing disaster”. It gives me a sense of power, at least for fifteen minutes. You can read it here and have fun.