Yanis Varoufakis, the new Greek finance minister, is also an economist and an expert in game theory and co-author of Game Theory: a critical text. He is now putting theory into practice.
He wishes to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s debt repayments. He argues not that some of the debt should be written off, but that the terms of the repayment are far too tough.
Greece’s problem, he argues, was wrongly seen as one of a lack of liquidity and hence the Troika (of the EU, the ECB and the IMF) provided a large amount of loans to enable Greece to keep servicing its debts. These loans were conditional on Greece following austerity policies of higher taxes and reduced government expenditure. But this just compounded the problem as seen by Yanis Varoufakis. With a shrinking economy, it has been even more difficult to repay the loans granted by the Troika.
The problem, he argues, is essentially one of insolvency. The solution is to renegotiate the terms of the debt to make it possible to pay. This means reducing the size of the budget surplus that Greece is required to achieve. The Troika is currently demanding a surplus equal to 3% of GDP in 2015 and 4.5% of GDP in 2016.
The Syriza government is also seeking to link repayments to economic growth, by the issue of growth-linked bonds, whose interest rate depends on the rate of economic growth, with a zero rate if there is no growth in real GDP. He is also seeking emergency humanitarian aid
At the centre of the negotiations is a high stake game. On the one hand, Germany and other countries do not want to reduce Greece’s debts or soften their terms. The fear is that this could unleash demands from other highly indebted countries in the eurozone, such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Already, Podemos, Spain’s anti-austerity party is rapidly gaining support in Spain. On the other hand, the new Greek government cannot back down in its fundamental demands for easing the terms of its debt repayments.
And the threats on both sides are powerful. The Troika could demand that the original terms are met. If they are not, and Greece defaults, there could be capital flight from Greece (even more than now) and Greece could be forced from the euro. The Greeks would suffer from further falls in income, which would now be denominated in a weak drachma, high inflation and financial chaos. But that could unleash a wave of speculation against other weaker eurozone members and cause a break-up of the currency union. This could seriously harm all members and have large-scale repercussions for the global economy.
So neither side wants Greece to leave the euro. But is it a game of chicken, where if neither side backs down, ‘Grexit’ (Greek exit from the euro) will be the result? Yanis Varoufakis understands the dimensions of the ‘game’ very well. He is well aware of the quote from Keynes, ‘If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe a million, it has.’ He will no doubt bring all his gaming skills to play in attempting to reach the best deal for Greece.
Greece’s last minute offer to Brussels changes absolutely nothing The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (10/2/15)
The next card Yanis Varoufakis will play The Conversation, Partha Gangopadhyay (8/2/15)
Senior European official: ‘The Greeks are digging their own graves’ Business Insider, Mike Bird (10/2/15)
Greece: The Tie That Doesn’t Bind New York Times, Paul Krugman (9/2/15)
Greek finance minister says euro will collapse if Greece exits Reuters, Gavin Jones (8/2/15)
Greece is playing to lose the debt crisis poker game The Guardian, Project Syndicate and Anatole Kaletsky (9/2/15)
Greek markets find sliver of hope Financial Times, Elaine Moore, Kerin Hope and Daniel Dombey (10/2/15)
Greece: What are the options for its future? BBC News, Jamie Robertson (12/2/15)
‘If I weren’t scared, I’d be awfully dangerous’ The Guardian, Helena Smith (13/2/15)
Greek debt crisis: German MPs back bailout extension BBC News (27/2/15)
- Is a deal over the terms of repayment of Greek debt a zero sum game? Explain whether it is or not.
- What are Keynes Bisque bonds (or GDP-indexed bonds)? Do a Web search to find out whether they have been used and what their potential advantages and disadvantages are. Are they a good solution for both creditors and Greece in the current situation?
- What is meant by a ‘debt swap’? What forms can debt swaps take?
- Has Greece played its best cards too early?
- Should Greece insist on debt reduction and simply negotiate around the size and terms of that reduction?
- Are Greece’s new structural reform proposals likely to find favour with other EU countries and the Troika?
With a mounting crisis in the eurozone, heads of government met in an emergency meeting in Brussels on 21 July.
The task was a massive one: how to tackle Greece’s growing debt crisis and stave off default; how to protect other highly indebted countries which have already had to seek emergency bailouts, namely Ireland and Portugal, from falling market confidence and thus rising interest rates, thereby making their debts harder to service; how to prevent speculative pressures extending like a contagion to other highly indebted countries, such as Spain and Italy; how to prevent speculation against the euro and even to prevent its break-up; how to reduce the size of budget deficits at a time of low growth without jeopardising that growth. A problem is that Greece has already adopted the required austerity measures for it to receive a second bailout from the EU agreed at the end of June, and yet its debt burden is likely to rise as growth remains negative.
Eurozone leaders recognised that the stakes were high. Failure could see contagion spread, interest rates soar and perhaps one or more countries leaving the euro. No agreement was not an option. As it turned out, the agreement was more comprehensive than most commentators had expected. Markets reacted positively. Stock markets in Europe and around the world rose and the euro strengthened.
So what was the agreement? Has it solved the Greek and eurozone crises? Will it prevent contagion? Or has it merely put the problem on hold for the time being? Will more fundamental measures have to be put in place, such as much fuller fiscal union, if the eurozone is to function as an effective single currency area? The following is a selection of the hundreds of articles worldwide that have reported on the summit and the agreement.
Greece thrown lifeline by eurozone leaders BBC News, Chris Morris (22/7/11)
A Marshall plan with ‘haircuts’: The draft agreement Guardian, Chris Morris (21/7/11)
Banks forced to share pain of bailout for Greece Independent, Sean O’Grady and Vanessa Mock (22/7/11)
EU leaders agree €109bn Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Quentin Peel, Patrick Jenkins and Richard Milne (21/7/11)
Greece to default as eurozone agrees €159bn bailout The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Bruno Waterfield (21/7/11)
Europe steps up to the plate The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (21/7/11)
Greek bailout boosts global markets Guardian, Julia Kollewe, Ian Traynor and Lisa O’Carroll (22/7/11)
Greek bailout deal: What the experts say Guardian (22/7/11)
Bailed out – again. Eurozone throws Greece €109bn lifeline Guardian, Ian Traynor (22/7/11)
New package for Greece must match last year’s if it is to stave off default Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Maiden (22/7/11)
Russian or Belgian roulette? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/7/11)
Saving the euro: A bit of breathing space The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (22/7/11)
Europe’s ‘safe haven’: corporate bonds Financial Times, Demetrio Salorio (21/7/11)
Summit that saved the euro? Financial Times, John Authers and Vincent Boland (21/7/11)
Greece aid package boosts stock markets BBC News (22/7/11)
Q&A: Greek debt crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Timeline: The unfolding eurozone crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Eurozone summit: It may be a solution, but doubts remain Guardian, Larry Elliott (21/7/11)
German taxpayers are being asked to socialise Europe’s debts The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (22/7/11)
The eurozone is not a nation state Financial Times blogs, Gavyn Davies (20/7/11)
One step back from the abyss BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (22/7/11)
For long-term gain, the EU will have to share the pain Independent, Sean O’Grady (22/7/11)
Greek debt deal ‘not the last word’ BBC Today Progrgamme, Stephanie Flanders and Sir John Gieve (22/7/11)
- Outline the measures agreed at the eurozone heads of government summit on 21 July.
- Explain what is meant by a ‘haircut’ in the context of debts. What types of haircut were agreed at the summit?
- How big a reduction in Greece’s debt stock will result from the deal? Why may it not be enough?
- Explain how the European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS) works? How will this change as a result of the agreement?
- What vulnerabilities remain in the eurozone?
- What are the arguments for closer fiscal union in the eurozone? Is more required than merely a return to the Stability and Growth Pact?
The blame for the global economic crisis has been placed on many different people, but one area that has been severely criticised for the extent of the financial crisis is banking and financial regulation (or a lack thereof). One thing that has been repeated is that we must learn from our mistakes and therefore tighten financial regulation on a global scale. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says the ‘rapid return to the City’s bonus culture shows that real reform has been “very limited”’. France in particular is arguing for tighter financial regulation, including curbing bankers’ bonuses to avoid a repeat of last year’s meltdown. However, it is meeting resistance from the UK and USA. Indeed, some banks appear to have extended their bonus culture.
As the banking sector slowly begins to recover, there is concern that few changes have been made to ensure that there is no repeat of the recent crisis. Banks have been warned that they should not resume taking risks, as they did before, as future bailouts by the government (and hence the taxpayer) will not keep happening. The European Union has now unveiled plans for new ‘super-regulators’, but only time will tell whether they will be a success.
EU unveils new ‘super-regulators’ BBC News (23/9/09)
EU proposes new Financial-Market supervision system The Wall Street Journal, Adam Cohen and Charles Forelle (24/9/09)
FSA head launches fresh attack on ‘swollen’ system ShareCast (24/9/09)
Bank crisis lessons ‘not learned’ BBC News (15/9/09)
US, UK resisting French drive for regulation AFP (22/9/09)
European System of Financial Supervisors (ESFS): Frequently Asked Questions Mondovisione (23/9/09)
Tighter grip on economy needed BBC News (13/9/09)
Turner warns against regulation overkill Money Marketing (23/9/09)
EU calls for European Banking, Securities Regulators Bloomberg (24/9/09)
EU financial watchdog to rely on moral authority The Associated Press (23/9/09)
Obama issues warning to bankers (including video) BBC News (14/9/09)
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of tighter regulation of the financial sector for (a) the UK and (b) the global economy? What forms should such regulation take?
- What are the arguments for and against imposing a statutory capital adequacy ratio on banks that is substantially higher than the ratios with which banks have been operating in recent years?
- In what ways was a lack of financial regulation responsible for the financial crisis?
- Why is the continuation and possibly growth of the bonus culture a potentially dangerous issue for any future crisis?
- The articles talk about ‘lessons being learned’. What lessons are they referring to?
- The financial crisis has affected everyone in some way. What has been the impact on taxpayers?