The negotiations between Greece and the ‘troika’ of creditors (the IMF, the European Commission and the ECB) have seen many twists and turns before breaking down on 26 June. Throughout, both sides have sought to give as little as possible while seeking a compromise. Both sides have claimed that their position is reasonable, even though a gulf has remained between them.
What has been playing out is a high-stakes game, where the optimum outcome for each side is quite different.
Greece seeks bailout terms that would allow it to achieve a smaller primary budget surplus (but still a surplus in the midst of a deep recession). The surplus would be achieved largely through tax rises on the wealthy rather than further cuts that would hit the poor hard. It is also seeking a substantial amount of debt forgiveness to make servicing the remaining debt possible.
The troika is seeking a larger budget surplus than the Greeks are willing to contemplate. This, it maintains, should be achieved largely through additional cuts in government expenditure, including further reductions in pensions and in public-sector wages.
Both sides used threats and promises as the negotiations became more and more acrimonious.
The troika threatened to withhold the final €7.2bn of the bailout necessary to pay the €1.6bn due to the IMF on 30 June, unless the Greeks accepted the terms of the austerity package put to them. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, in rejecting the proposals, called a referendum on the package. This threatens the stability of the eurozone as a No vote, if it led to a Greek exit from the eurozone, could undermine confidence in monetary union. After all, if Greece could be forced out, other countries facing severe difficulties might also be forced out at some point in the future. Once a country leaves the eurozone, the monetary union becomes more like a system of pegged exchange rates. And pegged exchange rates are open to destabilising speculation at times of economic divergence.
A Greek exit from the euro (dubbed ‘Grexit’) is seen as undesirable by most Greeks and by most politicians in the rest of Europe. The optimum for both sides collectively would be a compromise, which saw more modest cuts by Greece and the eurozone remaining intact. By both sides seeking to maximise their own position, the Nash equilibrium is certainly not the best outcome.
But as long as the troika believes that the Greeks are likely to vote Yes to the proposed bailout terms, it still hopes to get the outcome that is best from its point of view – an outcome that would probably involve regime change. And as long as the Greek government hopes that a No vote will force the troika to think again and come back with less austere proposals, it still hopes to get the outcome that is best from its point of view. But the outcome of this game of ‘chicken’ could well be Grexit and a Nash equilibrium that neither side wants.
But while the endgame is being played out by politicians, people in Greece are suffering. Policies of severely depressing aggregate demand to turn a large budget deficit into a primary budget surplus have led to the economy shrinking by 26%, overall unemployment of 27% and youth unemployment of over 60%. The Greeks truly believe themselves to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The following articles look at the nature of the ‘game’ being played and at the effects on the Greek economy, both of the proposed austerity package proposed by the troika and Grexit. They also look at the knock-on effects for the eurozone, the EU and the global economy.
Can game theory explain the Greek debt crisis? BBC News Magazine, Marcus Miller (26/6/15)
Against the Grain: What Yanis Varoufakis can learn from a real game theory master – Nicola Sturgeon City A.M., Paul Ormerod (24/6/15)
John Nash’s Game Theory and Greece Bloomberg, Mohamed A. El-Erian (29/5/15)
The Greek crisis: that 1931 moment The Economist, Buttonwood column (23/6/15)
How game theory explains Grexit and may also predict Greek poll outcome The Conversation, Partha Gangopadhyay (1/7/15)
Greece debt crisis: Tsipras may resign if Greeks vote yes BBC News (30/6/15)
Greek debt crisis: Is Grexit inevitable? BBC News. Paul Kirby (29/6/15)
Existential threat to euro from Greek exit BBC News, Robert Peston (29/6/15)
How I would vote in the Greek referendum The Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz (29/6/15)
Greece in chaos: will Syriza’s last desperate gamble pay off? The Guardian, Paul Mason (29/6/15)
What happens if Greece defaults on its International Monetary Fund loans? The Telegraph, Mehreen Khan (30/6/15)
For Greece’s international creditors, regime change is the ultimate goal The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (29/6/15)
Europe has suffered a reputational catastrophe in Greece The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (2/7/15)
- What is meant by a primary budget surplus?
- What was the troika’s proposal on the table on the 26 June that was rejected by the Greek government?
- What was the Greek government’s proposal that was rejected by the troika?
- Explain the decision trees outlined in the first BBC article below.
- In terms of game theory, what form of game is being played?
- Are the negotiations between the Greek government and the troika a prisoners’ dilemma game? Explain why or why not.
- Does the game being played between the SNP and the Conservative government in the UK offer any useful lessons to both sides in the negotiations over Greece’s possible bailout and its terms?
- Does a No vote in the referendum on 5 July imply that Greece must leave the euro? Explain.
- What would be the effects of further austerity measures on aggregate demand? What benefits to the Greek economy could be achieved from such measures?
- Why may pegged exchange rates be regarded as the worst of both worlds – a single currency in a monetary union and floating exchange rates?
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?
In 2003, the Office of Fair Trading launched an investigation into possible collusion between tobacco manufacturers and retailers to fix prices. The investigation sought to establish whether the firms had breached the Chapter I prohibition of the Competition Act 1998. Chapter I is concerned with Restrictive Practices.
The allegation was that two tobacco manufacturers, Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher, had colluded with 11 retailers to fix the retail prices and thereby reduce competition. The details of the allegations are given in a 2008 press release.
As a result of its investigations, the OFT has decided to impose fines of £225m. “The OFT has concluded that each manufacturer had a series of individual arrangements with each retailer whereby the retail price of a tobacco brand was linked to that of a competing manufacturer’s brand. These arrangements restricted the ability of these retailers to determine their selling prices independently and breached the Competition Act 1998.” As the Times Online article states:
The OFT said that the companies were guilty of “price-linking” or “price matching”. It said that Imps and Gallaher had come to an arrangement with each retailer that if one or other manufacturer increased or decreased prices the retailer would alter the price of the competitor brand in line, up or down accordingly – a practice known in competition law circles as “vertical price collusion”.
‘Unlawful’ tobacco pricing leads to £225m fine by OFT BBC News (16/4/10)
OFT levies £225m fine for cigarette price fixing Guardian, Richard Wray (17/4/10)
Tobacco giants face £225m fine for price-fixing Independent, Alistair Dawber
OFT case will send smoke signals Financial Times, Michael Peel, Elizabeth Rigby and Pan Kwan Yuk (16/4/10)
Imperial and Morrison set to appeal OFT fine Financial Times, Michael Peel, Pan Kwan Yuk and Elizabeth Rigby (16/4/10)
OFT faces challenge to £225m price-fixing ruling Times Online, Robert Lea (17/4/10)
OFT gets tough on tobacco as price-fixing net is cast wider Independent, Nick Clark (26/4/08)
OFT Press Release
OFT imposes £225m fine against certain tobacco manufacturers and retailers over retail pricing practices OFT Press Release (16/4/10)
- What are the allegations against the tobacco manufacturers and retailers?
- Why has the OFT judged that such behaviour is in breach of the 1988 Competition Act, and hence against the public interest?
- What are the arguments put by the tobacco companies and retailers in their defence?
- Is giving companies an amnesty if they alert the OFT an example of a prisoners’ dilemma game? What credible threats or promises may the companies have in such a situation?