In a speech in Dublin on 28 January 2015, titled ‘Fortune favours the bold‘, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, compared the UK economy to that of the 19-nation eurozone. While he welcomed the ECB’s recently announced quantitative easing programme, he argued that the current construction of the eurozone is unfinished and still has two fundamental weaknesses that have not been addressed.
The first is the fragmented nature of banking:
With limited cross-border banking in the euro area, savings don’t flow to potential investments. Euro-area corporates’ cash balances have risen to the tune of €420 billion, or 3% of GDP, since the crisis, for example. Modest cross-border equity flows mean inadequate risk sharing.
The second is the lack of an integrated fiscal policy.
For complete solutions to both current and potential future problems, the sharing of fiscal risks is required.
It is no coincidence that effective currency unions tend to have centralised fiscal authorities whose spending is a sizeable share of GDP – averaging over a quarter of GDP for advanced countries outside the euro area.
… If the eurozone were a country, fiscal policy would be substantially more supportive. However, it is tighter than in the UK, even though Europe still lacks other effective risk sharing mechanisms and is relatively inflexible. A more constructive fiscal policy would help recycle surplus private savings and mitigate the tail risk of stagnation. It would also bridge the drag from structural reforms on nominal spending and would be consistent with the longer term direction of travel towards greater integration.
But fiscal integration requires a political will to transfer fiscal surpluses from the stronger countries, such as Germany, to the weaker countries, such as those in southern Europe.
Overall, the financial and fiscal position in the eurozone is strong:
Gross general government debt in the euro area is roughly the same as in the UK and below the average of advanced economies. The weighted average yield on 10-year euro area sovereign debt is around 1%, compared to 1½% in the UK. And yet, the euro area’s fiscal deficit is half that in the UK. Its structural deficit, according to the IMF, is less than one third as large.
But, unlike the UK, where, despite the rhetoric of austerity, automatic fiscal stabilisers have been allowed to work and the government has accepted a much slower than planned reduction in the deficit, in the eurozone fiscal policy remains tight. Yet unemployment, at 11½%, is twice the rate in the UK and economic growth, at around 0.7% is only one-quarter of that in the UK.
Without a eurozone-wide fiscal policy the problem of slow growth is likely to persist for some time. Monetary policy in the form of QE will help and structural reforms will help to stimulate potential output and long-term growth, but these policies could be much more effective if backed up by fiscal policy.
Whether they will be any time soon is a political question.
Fortune favours the bold Bank of England. Mark Carney (29/1/15)
Bank of England’s Carney urges Europe to take plunge on fiscal union Reuters, Padraic Halpin (28/1/15)
Bank Of England’s Mark Carney Attacks ‘Timid’ Eurozone Recovery Attempts Huffington Post, Jack Sommers (29/1/15)
BoE’s Mark Carney calls for common eurozone fiscal policies Financial Times, Ferdinando Giugliano (28/1/15)
Carney attacks German austerity BBC News, Robert Peston (28/1/15)
Bank of England governor attacks eurozone austerity The Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/1/15)
- Compare the financial and fiscal positions of the UK and the eurozone.
- In what way is there a ‘debt trap’ in the eurozone?
- What did Mark Carney mean when he said, ‘Cross-border risk-sharing through the financial system has slid backwards.’?
- What options are there for the eurozone sharing fiscal risks?
- What would a ‘more constructive’ fiscal policy, as advocated by Mark Carney, look like?
- How do the fiscal policies of other currency unions, such as the UK (union of the four nations of the UK) or the USA (union of the 50 states) or Canada (union of the 10 provinces and three territories), differ from that of the eurozone?
After Syriza’s dramatic victory in the Greek election, it is now seeking to pursue its manifesto promises of renegotiating the terms of Greece’s bailout and bringing an end to austerity policies.
The bailout of €240bn largely involved debt restructuring to give Greeks more time to pay. A ‘haircut’ (reduction) on privately held bonds, estimated to be somewhere between €50bn and €110bn, was more than offset by an increase of €130bn in loans granted by official creditors.
The terms of the bailout negotiated with the ‘Troika’ of the EU Commission, the ECB and the IMF, had forced the previous Greek government to make substantial fiscal adjustments. These have included large-scale cuts in government expenditure (including public-sector wages), increases in taxes, charges and fares, and selling state assets through an extensive programme of privatisation.
Although Greece is now regarded as having achieved a structural budget surplus (a surplus when the economy is operating at potential output: i.e. with a zero output gap), the austerity policies and a decline in inward investment have dampened the economy so much that, until last year, the actual budget deficit and public-sector debt continued to rise as tax revenues plummeted.
Since 2007, GDP has fallen by nearly 27% and the unemployment rate is around 26%. The fall in GDP has made the achievement of a reduction in the debt/GDP ratio that much harder. General government debt has risen from 103% of GDP in 2007 to 176% in 2014, and the budget deficit, although having peaked at 12.2% of GDP in 2013, has only been brought down through huge cuts.
As a report to the European Parliament from the Economic Governance Support Unit argues on page 27:
With less front-loaded fiscal adjustment, the EU-IMF financing envelope for Greece would have needed to expand, in what is already the largest financial assistance programme in percent of GDP in recent global history. On the other hand, a less rapid fiscal adjustment may have helped to preserve some of the productive capacity that, in the course of the adjustment, was destroyed.
The new government, although pledging not to default on debt, is insistent on renegotiating the debt and wants to achieve a high level of rescheduling and debt forgiveness. As the new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, says:
On existing loans, we demand repayment terms that do not cause recession and do not push the people to more despair and poverty. We are not asking for new loans; we cannot keep adding debt to the mountain.
But, just as the Greek government is insistent on renegotiating its debt, so the German government and others in the EU are insisting that Greece sticks to the terms of the bailout and carries on with its current programme of debt reduction. Another haircut, they maintain, is out of the question.
We must wait to see how the negotiations play out. We are in the realms of game theory with various possible threats and promises on either side. It will be interesting to how these threats and promises are deployed.
New Leader in Greece Now Faces Creditors New York Times, Liz Alderman (26/1/15)
Syriza’s historic win puts Greece on collision course with Europe The Guardian, Ian Traynor and Helena Smith (26/1/15)
Greece Q&A: what now for Syriza and EU austerity? The Guardian, Phillip Inman (26/1/15)
Greek elections: Syriza gives eurozone economic headache BBC News, Prof Dimitri Mardas (26/1/15)
How a Syriza government would approach the eurozone The Telegraph, Andrew Lilico (19/1/15)
Australian economists urge Greek debt forgiveness as Syriza election win looks likely ABC News, Michael Janda (26/1/15)
Will Syriza win rock the global economy? CBS News, Nick Barnets (26/1/15)
Syriza should ignore calls to be responsible Irish Times. Paul Krugman (27/1/15)
Syriza Victory in Greek Election Roils European Debate Over Austerity Wall Street Journal, Marcus Walker (25/1/14)
Greece markets hit by debt default fears BBC News (28/1/15)
Why Europe Will Cave to Greece Bloomberg, Clive Crook (29/1/15)
Greece and the euro: Take the money and run The Economist, Buttonwood (28/1/15)
Tanking markets send dire warning to Greece’s new government Fortune, Geoffrey Smith (28/1/15)
The biggest debt write-offs in the history of the world The Telegraph, Mehreen Khan (2/2/15)
- Why has Greek debt continued to rise despite extremely tight fiscal policy?
- How is the structural deficit defined? What difficulties arise in trying to measure its size?
- Would there have been any way of substantially reducing the Greek budget deficit without driving Greece into a deep recession?
- What are the arguments for and against cancelling a large proportion of Greek debt? Is there a moral hazard involved here?
- Will the recently announced ECB quantitative easing programme help to reduce Greece’s debt?
- Are negotiations about debt forgiveness a zero sum game? Explain.
- What are the likely impacts of the Syriza victory on the global economy?
In the third and final part of this blog, we look at the G8 summit at Camp David on 18 and 19 May 2012. Ways of averting the deepening global economic crisis were top of the agenda.
In terms of the global economy, the leaders agreed on three main things. The first was that they supported Greece remaining in the euro. According to the communiqué:
We agree on the importance of a strong and cohesive eurozone for global stability and recovery, and we affirm our interest in Greece remaining in the eurozone while respecting its commitments. We all have an interest in the success of specific measures to strengthen the resilience of the eurozone and growth in Europe
The second was a commitment to ‘fiscal responsibility’ and the clawing down of public-sector deficits.
We commit to fiscal responsibility and, in this context, we support sound and sustainable fiscal consolidation policies that take into account countries’ evolving economic conditions and underpin confidence and economic recovery.
The third was commitment to boosting economic growth. (Click on chart for a larger image.) On the supply side this would be through measures to stimulate productivity. On the demand side this would be through policies to stimulate investment.
(For a PowerPoint of the chart, click on the following link: Quarterly Growth.)
To raise productivity and growth potential in our economies, we support structural reforms, and investments in education and in modern infrastructure, as appropriate. Investment initiatives can be financed using a range of mechanisms, including leveraging the private sector. Sound financial measures, to which we are committed, should build stronger systems over time while not choking off near-term credit growth. We commit to promote investment to underpin demand, including support for small businesses and public-private partnerships.
But the communiqué was short on details. How will fiscal consolidation be achieved? Does this mean a continuation of austerity measures? And if so, what will be the impact on aggregate demand? Or if fiscal consolidation is slowed down, what will be the impact on financial markets?
If a growth in investment is central to the policy, what will be the precise mechanisms to encourage it? Will they be enough to combat the deflationary effect on demand of the fiscal measures?
And how will productivity increases be achieved? What supply-side measures will be introduced? And will productivity increases be encouraged or discouraged by continuing austerity measures?
Lots of questions – questions raised by the articles below.
Capitalism at a crossroads Independent (19/5/12)
Barack Obama warns eurozone to focus on jobs and growth The Telegraph (20/5/12)
G8 Summit: World leaders push for Greece to stay in the eurozone The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (19/5/12)
Obama sees ’emerging consensus’ on crisis Sydney Morning Herald, Ben Feller and Jim Kuhnhenn (20/5/12)
G8 leaders tout economic growth, fiscal responsibility CNN (20/5/12)
G8 focuses on Eurozone Gulf News (20/5/12)
G8 leaders back Greece amid tensions France 24 (20/5/12)
G8 splits over stimulus versus austerity Financial TimesRichard McGregor and Kiran Stacey (19/5/12)
Cameron is consigning the UK to stagnation Financial Times, Martin Wolf (17/5/12)
Time to end ‘Camerkozy’ economics Financial Times, Ed Miliband (18/5/12)
Obama: Eurozone ‘must focus on jobs and growth’ BBC News (20/5/12)
World leaders back Greece, vow to combat financial turmoil Reuters, Jeff Mason and Laura MacInnis (19/5/12)
Germany isolated over euro crisis plan at G8 meeting in Camp David Guardian, Patrick Wintour (19/5/12)
G8 leaders end summit with pledge to keep Greece in eurozone Guardian, Ewen MacAskill (19/5/12)
G8 summit ends with few tangible results Xinhua, Sun Hao (20/5/12)
Camp David DeclarationG8 (19/5/12)
- To what extent are economic growth and fiscal consolidation (a) compatible; (b) incompatible objectives? How might a Keynesian and a new classical economist respond to these questions?
- What supply-side measures could be introduced by the EU?
- Why might dangers of protectionism increase in the coming months?
- What would be the impact of a Greek default and exit from the eurozone on other eurozone economies?
- What monetary policy changes could be introduced by the eurozone governments and the ECB in order to ease the sovereign debt crisis of countries such as Grecce, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland?
In the second part of this blog, we look at an interview with the Guardian given by Robert Chote, Chair of the UK’s Office of Budget Responsibility. Like Mervyn King’s, that we looked at in Part 1, Robert Chote’s predictions are also gloomy.
In particular, he argues that if Greece leaves the euro, the effects on the UK economy could be significant, not just in the short term, but in the long term too.
The concern is that you end up with an outcome in the eurozone that creates the same sort of structural difficulties in the financial system and in the economy that we saw in the past recession, and that that has consequences both for hitting economic activity in the economy, but also its underlying potential. And it’s the latter which has particular difficulties for the fiscal position, because it means not just that the economy weakens and then strengthens again – ie, it goes into a hole and comes out – but that you go down and you never quite get back up to where you started. And that has more lingering, long-term consequences for the public finances.
The interview looked not just at the effects of the current crisis in the eurozone on the eurozone, British and world economies, but also at a number of other issues, including: the reliability of forecasts and those of the OBR in particular; relations between the OBR and the Treasury; allowing the OBR to cost opposition policies; the economic effect of cutting the 50p top rate of income tax; the sustainability of public-sector pensions; and tax increases or spending cuts in the long term.
In Part 3 we look at attempts by the G8 countries to find a solution to the mounting crisis.
Robert Chote interview: ‘I would not say in the past there’s been rigging’ Guardian, Andrew Sparrow (18/5/12)
UK ‘may never fully recover’ if Greece exits euro Guardian, Andrew Sparrow, Helena Smith and Larry Elliott (18/5/12)
British economy may ‘never quite recover’ from a severe Euro collapse The Telegraph, Rowena Mason (18/5/12)
Economic and fiscal outlook Office for Budget Responsibility (March 2012)
- Why is it very difficult to forecast the effects of a Greek withdrawal from the euro?
- Why may Greek withdrawal have an effect on long-term potential output in the UK and the rest of Europe?
- Why are economic forecasts in general so unreliable? Does this mean that we should abandon economic forecasting?
- Why are public finances “likely to come under pressure over the longer term”?
- Why might the cut in the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45% have little impact on economic growth? Distinguish between income and substitution effects of the tax cut.
The press is buzzing with talk of Greece leaving the euro. And if Greece leaves, what next? The press is also buzzing with talk of a possible, if not probable, breakup of the euro altogether – a Eurodämmerung as Paul Krugman calls it.
So is Greece likely to leave the euro, or will the Greek electorate vote next time for the parties supporting the austerity package they negotiated with the EU?
If Greece does leave the euro, what would be the implications for the Greek economy? And what would be the implications for the rest of the eurozone? Would it fall apart: would there a be a domino effect to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland and then the whole eurozone? Or would Germany and the ECB do whatever was necessary to prevent any more countries leaving?
The following articles ponder these weighty questions. In the meantime, stock markets around the world have plunged on fears of the damage a disorderly Greek exit could do to the eurozone and to the global economy.
Greece, euro exit and the drummer in the band Reuters, Luke Baker (14/5/12)
Greek fire could singe rest of euro Financial Times, Richard Milne and Patrick Jenkins (14/5/12)
Eurozone: If Greece goes … Financial Times, Chris Giles, Peter Spiegel and Kerin Hope (13/5/12)
How would Greece leave the euro? BBC News, Kabir Chibber (10/5/12)
CBI: Greece eurozone exit ‘would be like an earthquake happening’ The Telegraph, John Cridland (14/5/12)
Forget what you’re hearing: Greece won’t quit euro soon Globe and Mail (Canada), Brian Milner (14/5/12)
Could the euro survive a Greek exit? BBC News, Robert Peston (14/5/12)
Greekonomics (see also) BBC News, Paul Mason (9/5/12)
This is how the euro ends – not with a whimper but a bang The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (15/5/12)
EC and ECB working on emergency plans for Greek euro exit, says trade commissioner Karel De Gucht The Telegraph (18/5/12)
Fiddling while Athens burns The Economist (19/5/12)
Exodus, chapter 1 The Economist (19/5/12)
The Greek run The Economist (19/5/12)
Greece will leave the euro. But what then? Independent on Sunday, Hamish McRae (20/5/12)
No quick fix for Euro – maybe a slow one? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (24/5/12)
- If Greece left the euro, what would happen to bank deposits in Greek banks?
- What would be the costs and benefits to the Greek economy of a reintroduction of the drachma?
- Why might individuals and companies, if they were able, move their euro deposits out of Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy into accounts based in other eurozone countries? What would be the implications of such financial flows?
- What can the ECB do to support the banking systems in vulnerable eurozone countries? Is there any theoretical limit to the amount that the ECB can offer?
- What is the role of the central banks of individual eurozone countries in a transfer of large-scale funds from one eurozone country to another? How does this impact on the receiving country (e.g. Germany)?