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?
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?
After a marathon 13-hour session in Brussels, ending at 5am on 21 February, eurozone finance ministers agreed a second bailout for Greece. The aim was to lighten Greece’s debt burden and prevent the country being forced to default.
Under the deal, Greece will have some €107bn of its debt written off. The main brunt of this will be borne by private creditors, who will see the value of their Greek bonds fall by 53.5% (some 70% in real terms). Old bonds will be swapped for ones with longer maturities and lower interest rates. In addition, Greece will be given further loans of more than €130bn through the EFSF on top of the €73bn already lent. The monies will be put in a special escrow account and can be used only to service the debt, not to finance general government expenditure.
In return, Greece must reduce its debt to GDP ratio from the current 160% to 120.5% by 2020. It must agree to continuing tight austerity measures and to significant supply-side reforms to reduce the size of the public sector and increase efficiency. Implementation of the measures would be overseen by an EU Task Force based in Greece.
But while governments in the EU and around the world are relieved that a deal has been finally agreed and that Greek default seems to have been averted – at least for the time being – the problems for Greece seem set to get worse. The further austerity measures will deepen the recession, now in its fifth year. Growth is not expected to return until 2014 at the earliest, by which point real GDP is expected to have shrunk by some 17% from the start of the recession. The question is whether the Greek people will stand for further cuts in income and further rises in unemployment, which had reached 20.9% in November 2011 and is still rising rapidly.
Eurozone backs Greek bailout Euronews (21/2/12)
Greece Wins Second Bailout as Europe Picks Aid Over Default Bloomberg, James G. Neuger and Jonathan Stearns (21/2/12)
Eurozone agrees second Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel and Alex Barker (21/2/12)
Greece secures bailout to avoid debt default Independent, Gabriele Steinhauser and Sarah DiLorenzo (21/2/12)
EU tells Greece to cut more jobs, sees 2014 growth Reuters, Gabriele Robin Emmott and Nicholas Vinocur (21/2/12)
Eurozone agrees €130bn bailout for Greece The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (21/2/12)
Greece averted nightmare scenario – finance minister BBC News (21/2/12)
Greece: Dangerous precedent? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/2/12)
The end of the marathon? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/2/12)
What Analysts Think of the Greek Deal The Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Fletcher (21/2/12)
Three steps to a strong eurozone Guardian, Henning Meyer (21/2/12)
Opinion: the eurozone is just buying time Deutsche Welle, Henrik Böhme (21/2/12)
Greece must default if it wants democracy Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (19/2/12)
Eurozone’s Greece deal: debt and delusions at dawn Guardian. Editorial (21/2/12)
€130bn plaster leaves Greece independent in name only Guardian, Larry Elliott (22/2/12)
The Greek debt deal: Thumbs down The Economist, Buttonwood’s notebook (21/2/12)
Webcasts and podcasts
Are Greeks’ euro days numbered? Channel 4 News (21/2/12)
Wolf and Authers on Greece Financial Times, John Authers and Martin Wolf, (21/2/12)
Greece ‘unlikely to meet targets’ BBC Today Programme, Ngaire Woods, Guntram Wolff and Alistair Darling (21/2/12)
Austerity-hit Greeks scorn bailout deal Euronews (21/2/12)
Greek Bail Out Could Lead To More Violence Sky News (21/2/12)
Official Press Release
Eurogroup statement Europa Press Release (21/2/12)
- Outline the features of the bailout on offer to Greece. What is Greece expected to do in return for the bailout?
- To what extent has the deal lightened Greece’s macroeconomic problems?
- Why does granting a bailout create a moral hazard? How has the ECB/IMF/EU Commission Troika attempted to minimise the moral hazard in this case?
- Has Greece’s financial problem been essentially one of liquidity or solvency?
- What supply-side measures is Greece being required to implement? Will they have any demand-side consequences?
- From where is Greek growth likely to emanate after 2014?
- What are the downside risks of the deal?
- How likely is it that there will have to be a third bailout?
Well they say that a day is a long-time in politics – that an awful lot can happen within 24 hours. The two days of the G20 summit have seemed like a lifetime. The meeting took place in Cannes from 3 to 4 November, 2011. It was the sixth such meeting of the G20: the 19 largest developed and developing countries plus the European Union.
As chair of the meeting, President Sarkozy of France had planned to address the two key global issues of securing a sustained global recovery and strengthening the global banking system. He also wanted to address other issues, such as climate change, commodity price volatility, social inclusion, corruption and corporate governance. But although these issues are covered in the final communiqué, what took centre-stage for the whole summit was the crisis in Greece and its impact on the eurozone.
The drama began on Monday 31 October. The Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, decided to call a referendum on the agreement reached at the eurozone summit in Brussels the previous week. In return for banks being required to take a loss of 50% in converting existing Greek bonds into new ones, Greece would have to continue with its tough austerity measures: measures that have caused the Greek economy to implode.
With worries that (a) the referendum would create several weeks of uncertainty, (b) that the agreement might then be rejected, (c) that the government might fall, stock markets plunged. French and German markets fell by over 5%. The Athens stock market fell by 7 per cent. The yield on Italian bonds passed 6%, amidst fears that if Greece defaulted, so too might Italy. But if the eurozone could survive a Greek default, it might not survive an Italian one. Even though several members of Mr. Papandreou’s Pasok party demanded his resignation, he stuck to his guns that an agreement had to have the consent of the Greek people. That was Tuesday.
The next day, Wednesday, was the start of the two-day G20 conference. What was to have been a meeting addressing wider issues of the global economy, was now having to focus on the Greek crisis. President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel made it clear that the next tranche of bailout money to Greece would not be paid until the deal agreed in Brussels was accepted by Greece. They gave the first indications that they might accept Greece’s withdrawal from the eurozone.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr Papandreou signalled that he would back down from the referendum if the opposition New Democracy party would join him in supporting the Brussels deal. He would not resign. But the opposition leader, Antonis Samaras, said that his party would not join with Mr Papandreou and that the Prime Minister should indeed resign. He did not resign, but abandoned the calll for a referendum.
With the Greek crisis dominating the meeting, little concrete agreement was reached. One important outcome, however, was the recognition that the financing of the IMF should be strengthened. As the final communiqué states:
We will ensure the IMF continues to have resources to play its systemic role to the benefit of its whole membership, building on the substantial resources we have already mobilized since London in 2009. We stand ready to ensure additional resources could be mobilised in a timely manner and ask our finance ministers by their next meeting to work on deploying a range of various options including bilateral contributions to the IMF, SDRs, and voluntary contributions to an IMF special structure such as an administered account. We will expeditiously implement in full the 2010 quota and governance reform of the IMF.
But despite this recognition of the key role of the IMF, the agreement was essentially that an agreement would be needed!
Eurozone crisis: yet another twist to Greek farce keeps leaders on edge of seats The Telegraph (4/11/11)
G20 summit: the main issues at Cannes The Telegraph (3/11/11)
Quick! More sandbags (filled with cash) The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (4/11/11)
The burning fuse The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (4/11/11)
G20 leaders agree to boost IMF resources BBC News (4/11/11)
G20 summit fails to allay world recession fears Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Larry Elliott (4/11/11)
G20 summit: roll call of doom for a dysfunctional family Guardian, Angelique Chrisafis (3/11/11)
Euro zone finds no new money for debt crisis at G20 The Economic Times of India (4/11/11)
Shares jump after referendum ditched New Zealand Herald (5/11/11)
Bunds rise on EFSF worries, Italy under pressure Reuters (4/11/11)
Eurozone crisis: The possible resolutions BBC News (4/11/11)
The G20 aren’t running to Europe’s rescue BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (4/11/11)
Is the euro about to capsize? BBC News, Laurence Knight (4/11/11)
Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors: final communiqué G20–G8 France 2011 (4/11/11)
- Why might the ‘game’ between the eurozone leaders and George Papandreou be seen as a prisoner’s dilemma game? What are the payoffs?
- Why might increasing the bailout for Greece represent a moral hazard for the eurozone leaders?
- Trace through market reactions between the 31 October and the 4 November and explain the movements.
- How crucial is the IMF in achieving global stability and economic growth?
- Assess the success of the Cannes G20 conference.
At its meeting on 26 October, the eurozone countries agreed on a deal to tackle the three problems identified in Part A of this blog:
1. Making the Greek debt burden sustainable
2. Increasing the size of the eurozone bailout fund to persuade markets that there would be sufficient funding to support other eurozone countries which were having difficulties in servicing their debt.
3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.
The following were agreed:
1. Banks would be required to take a loss of 50% in converting existing Greek bonds into new ones. This swap will take place in January 2012. Note that Greek debt to other countries and the ECB would be unaffected and thus total Greek debt would be cut by considerably less than 50%.2. The bailout fund (EFSF) would increase to between €1 trillion and €1.4 trillion, although this would be achieved not by direct contributions by Member States or the ECB, but by encouraging non-eurozone countries (such as China, Russia, India and Brazil) to buy eurozone debt in return for risk insurance. These purchases would the form the base on which the size of the fund could be multiplied (leveraged). There would also be backing from the IMF. Details would be firmed up in November.
3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults. About 70 banks will be required to raise an additional €106.4 billion by increasing their Tier 1 capital ratio by 9% by June 2012 (this compares with the Basel III requirement of 6% Tier 1 by 2015).
On the longer-term issue of closer fiscal union, the agreement was in favour of achieving this, along with tight constraints on the levels of government deficits and debt – a return to something akin to the Stability and Growth Pact.
On the issue of economic growth, whilst constraining sovereign debt may be an important element of a long-term growth strategy, the agreement has not got to grips with the short-term problem of a lack of aggregate demand – unless, of course, the relief in markets at seeing a solution to the debt problem may boost business and consumer confidence. This, in turn, may provide the boost to aggregate demand that has been sadly lacking over the past few months.
Certainly if the reaction of stock markets around the world are anything to go by, the recovery in confidence may be under way. The day following the agreement, the German stock market index, the Dax, rose by 6.3% and the French Cac index rose by 5.4%.
Eurozone crisis explained BBC News (27/10/11)
Leaders agree eurozone debt plan in Brussels BBC News, Matthew Price (27/10/11)
Eurozone agreement – the detail BBC News, Hugh Pym (27/10/11)
10 key questions on the eurozone bailout Citywire Money, Caelainn Barr (27/10/11)
European debt crisis: ‘Europe is going to have a very tough winter’ – video analysis Guardian, Larry Elliott (27/10/11)
Eurozone crisis: banks agree 50% reduction on Greece’s debt Guardian, David Gow (27/10/11)
The euro deal: No big bazooka The Economist (29/10/11)
Europe’s rescue plan The Economist (29/10/11)
European banks given just eight months to raise €106bn The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (26/10/11)
EU reaches agreement on Greek bonds Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Stanley Pignal and Alex Barker (27/10/11)
Unlike politicians, the markets are seeing sense Independent, Hamish McRae (27/10/11)
Market view: Eurozone rescue deal buys time FT Adviser, Michael Trudeau (27/10/11)
Greece vows to build on EU deal, people sceptical Reuters, Renee Maltezou and Daniel Flynn (27/10/11)
Markets boosted by eurozone deal Independent, Peter Cripps, Jamie Grierson (27/10/11)
Has Germany been prudent or short-sighted? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (27/10/11)
Germany’s Fiscal union with a capital F BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (27/10/11)
- What are the key features of the deal reached in Brussels on 26 October?
- What details still need to be worked out?
- How will the EFSF be boosted some 4 or 5 times without extra contributions fron eurozone governments?
- Why, if banks are to take a 50% haircut on their holdings of Greek debt, will Greek debt fall only to 120% per cent by 2020 from just over 160% currently?
- On balance, is this a good deal?