With talks ongoing about resolving the Greek debt crisis, it is clear that there is no agreement that will satisfy both sides – the Greek government and the troika of lenders (the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission). Their current negotiating positions are irreconcilable. What is needed is something more fundamental to provide a long-term solution. What is needed is a ‘deus ex machina‘.
A deus ex machina, which is Latin for ‘god from a machine’, was a device used in Greek tragedy to solve an impossible situation. A god would appear from above, lowered by a crane, or from below through a trap door, and would put everything right. The tragedy would then be given a happy ending.
So what possible happy ending could be brought to the current Greek tragedy and who could be the deus ex machina?
The negotiations between Greece and the troika currently centre on extending credit by €7.2bn when existing debts come up for repayment. There are repayments currently due to the IMF, or by the end of June, of €1.5bn and more in July, September and December (another €3.2bn). There are also €6.7bn of Greek bonds held by the ECB, as part of the 2010 bailout programme, that are due for repayment in July and August. Without the €7.2 billion bailout, Greece will be unable to meet these debt repayments, which also include Treasury bills.
But the troika will only release the funds in return for harsh austerity measures, which involve further cuts to pensions and public expenditure. Greece would be required to run a substantial budget surplus for many years.
Greece could refuse, but then it would end up defaulting on debt and be forced out of the euro. The result would probably be a substantial depreciation of a newly restored drachma, rising inflation and many Greeks suffering even greater hardship – at least for a period of time.
So what is the possible deus ex machina? If you’re looking for a ‘god’ then it is best, perhaps, to look beyond the current actors. Perhaps the Americans could play the role in finding a solution to the impasse. Perhaps a small group of independent experts or politicians, or both, could find one. In either case, the politics of the situation would have to be addressed as well as the economics and finance.
And what would be the ‘fix’ to satisfy both sides? Ultimately, this has to allow Greek debt to be sustainable without further depressing demand and undermining the fabric of Greek society. This would almost certainly have to involve a large measure of debt forgiveness (i.e. debts being written off). It also has to avoid creating a moral hazard, whereby if the Greeks are seen as being ‘let off lightly’, this might encourage other indebted eurozone countries to be less willing to reduce their debts and make demands for forgiveness too.
Ultimately, the issue is a political one, not an economic one. This will require clever negotiation and, if there is a deus ex machina, clever mediation too.
Greek PM Tsipras warns lenders bailout plans ‘not realistic’ BBC News, Jim Reynolds (5/6/25)
Greece defers IMF payment until end of June BBC News, Chris Morris (5/6/15)
Greek debt talks: Empty shops and divided societies BBC News, Chris Morris (10/6/15)
Potential Grexit effects Deutsche Welle (13/6/15)
It’s time to end the pretence: Greece will never fully repay its bailout loan The Guardian, Andrew Farlow (9/6/15)
Greek exit would trigger eurozone collapse, says Alexis Tsipras The Guardian, Phillip Inman, Helena Smith and Graeme Wearden (9/6/15)
The eurozone was a dream of unity. Now Europe has turned upon itself The Guardian, Business leader (14/6/15)
Greece bailout talks: an intractable crisis with three possible outcomes The Guardian, Larry Elliott (2/6/15)
Greece needs an economic defibrillator and a debt write-off Financial Times letters, Ray Kinsella (25/3/15)
Greece’s new debt restructuring plan Times of Change, Peter Spiegel (5/6/15)
Eurozone still in denial about Greece BBC News, Robert Peston (3/6/15)
Greece bailout talks – the main actors in a modern-day epic The Guardian, Phillip Inman, Ian Traynor and Helena Smith (9/6/15)
Greece isn’t any old troubled debtor BBC News, Robert Peston (15/6/15)
Greece in default if debt deadline missed, says Lagarde BBC News (18/6/15)
Burden of debt to IMF and European neighbours proves too much for Greece The Guardian, Heather Stewart (17/6/15)
Ending the Greek Crisis: Debt Management and Investment led Growth Greek government
- To which organisations is Greece indebted? What form to the debts take?
- To what extent is Greece’s current debt burden the result of design faults of the euro?
- Would it be possible to restructure debts in ways that make it easier for Greece to service them?
- Should Greece be treated by the IMF the same way it treated the highly indebted poor countries (HIPCs) and granted substantial debt relief?
- What would be the effects of Greek exit from the euro (a) for Greece; (b) for other eurozone countries?
- What bargaining chips can Greece deploy in the negotiations?
- Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’. Where in possible outcomes to the negotiations may there be moral hazard?
- What has been the impact of Greek austerity measures on the distribution of income and wealth in Greece?
- What are the practicalities of pursuing supply-side policies in Greece without further dampening aggregate demand?
In two posts recently, we considered the pessimistic views of Robert Peston about the prospects for the global economy (see Cloudy skies ahead? and The end of growth in the West?). In this post we consider the views of Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Lord Adair Turner, the former head of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) (which was replaced in 2013 by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority).
Christine Lagarde was addressing an audience at Georgetown University in Washington DC. The first four links below are to webcasts of the full speech and subsequent interviews about the speech. She gives a more gloomy assessment of the global economy than six months ago, especially the eurozone economy and several emerging economies, such as China. There are short- to medium-term dangers for the world economy from political conflicts, such as that between Russia and the West over Ukraine. But there are long-term dangers too. These come from the effects of subdued private investment and low infrastructure spending by governments.
Her views are backed up by the six-monthly World Economic Outlook, published by the IMF on 7 October. There are links below to two webcasts from the IMF discussing the report and the accompanying datasets.
In the final webcast link below, Lord Turner argues that there is a “real danger of a simultaneous slowdown producing a big setback to growth expectations.” He is particularly worried about China, which is experiencing an asset price bubble and slowing economic growth. Other emerging economies too are suffering from slowing growth. This poses real problems for developed countries, such as Germany, which are heavily reliant on their export sector.
The Challenges Facing the Global Economy: New Momentum to Overcome a New Mediocre IMF Videos, Christine Lagarde (full speech) (2/10/14)
Christine Lagarde downbeat on global economy BBC News Canada, Christine Lagarde interviewed by Katy Kay (2/10/14)
IMF’s Lagarde on Global Economy, Central Banks Bloomberg TV, Christine Lagarde interviewed by Tom Keene (2/10/14)
Lagarde: Global economy weaker than envisioned 6 months ago, IMF to cut growth outlook CNBC (2/10/14)
IMF Says Uneven Global Growth Disappoints IMF Videos, Olivier Blanchard (7/10/14)
Time Is Right for an Infrastructure Push IMF Videos, Abdul Ablad (30/9/14)
China slowdown poses ‘biggest risk to global economy’ The Telegraph, Adair Turner (4/10/14)
Global Growth Disappoints, Pace of Recovery Uneven and Country-Specific IMF Survey Magazine (7/10/14)
Global economy risks becoming stuck in low growth trap The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (2/10/14)
American Exceptionalism Thrives Amid Struggling Global Economy Bloomberg, Rich Miller and Simon Kennedy (4/10/14)
World Bank cuts China growth forecast for next three years BBC News (6/10/14)
Beware a Chinese slowdown The Guardian, Kenneth Rogoff (6/10/14)
IMF says economic growth may never return to pre-crisis levels The Guardian, Larry Elliott (7/10/14)
IMF goes back to the future with gloomy talk of secular stagnation The Guardian, Larry Elliott (7/10/14)
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (7/10/14)
World Economic Outlook IMF (October 2014)
- What are the particular ‘headwinds’ facing the global economy?
- Why is the outlook for the global economy more pessimistic now than six months ago?
- Why are increasing levels of debt and asset price rises a threat to Chinese economic growth?
- Why may China be more able to deal with high levels of debt than many other countries?
- In what ways are commodity prices an indicator of the confidence of investors about future economic growth?
- What are the determinants of long-term economic growth? Why are potential economic growth rates lower today than in the 2000s?
- How might governments today boost long-term economic growth?
- What are the arguments for and against governments engaging in large-scale public investment in infrastructure projects? What would be the supply-side and demand-side effects of such policies?
- If confidence is a major determinant of investment, how might bodies such as the IMF boost confidence?
- Why does the IMF caution against over-aggressive attempts to reduce budget deficits?
An historic agreement has been reached between Argentina over outstanding debt owed to creditor nations. Creditor nations come together as the ‘Paris Club’ and at a Paris Club meeting on May 28, details of a repayment plan were agreed. Argentina hopes that the agreement will enable it to start borrowing again on international markets: something that had been largely blocked by outstanding debt, which, up to now, Argentina had been unwilling to repay.
The problem goes back to 2001. Argentina was faced with international debt payments of $132bn, equalling some 27% of GDP and over 300% of export earnings. But at the time the country was in recession and debts were virtually impossible to service. It had received some help from the International Monetary Fund, but in December 2001, the IMF refused a request for a fresh loan of $1.3 billion
As Case Study 27.5 in MyEconLab for Economics, 8th edition explains:
This triggered a crisis in the country with mass rioting and looting. As the crisis deepened, Argentina announced that it was defaulting on its $166 billion of foreign debt. This hardly came as a surprise, however. For many commentators, it was simply a question of when.
Argentina’s default on its debts was the biggest of its kind in history. In a series of dramatic measures, the Argentine peso was initially devalued by 29%. Over the next three months, the peso depreciated a further 40%.
The economy seemed in free-fall. GDP fell by 11% in 2002 and, by the end of the year, income per head was 22% below that of 1998. Unemployment was 21%.
Then, however, the economy began to recover, helped by higher (peso) prices for exports resulting from the currency depreciation. In 2003 economic growth was 9.0% and averaged 8.4% per annum from 2004 to 2008.
But what of the debt? In 2005, Argentina successfully made a huge debt swap with banks and other private creditors (see Box 27.1 in Economics, 8th edition). A large proportion of its defaulted debt was in the form of bonds. It offered to swap the old bonds for new peso bonds, but worth only 35% as much (known as a ‘haircut’). By the deadline of 25 February, there was a 76% take-up of the offer: clearly people thought that 35% was better than nothing! At a stroke, bonds originally worth $104 billion now became worth just $36.2 billion. Later the take-up of the offer increased to 93%. But still 7% held out.
Then in 2006 its debt of nearly $10 billion was repaid to the IMF. General government debt stock as a percentage of GDP fell from 172% in 2002 to 106% in 2006 and to 48% in 2010.
In September 2008, the government of President Cristina Kirchner pledged to use some of its foreign currency reserves of $47 billion to pay back the remainder of the defaulted debt still owed to Paris Club creditors. But negotiations stalled.
However, at the Paris Club meeting of 28 May this year, agreement was finally reached. Argentina will repay the outstanding $9.7bn owed to individual creditor countries. This will take place over 5 years, with a first instalment of $1.15bn being paid before May 2015.
Argentina hopes that the agreement will open up access to overseas credit, which, up to now, has been limited because of this unresolved debt. However, Argentina still owes money to the holders of the 7% of bonds who did not accept the haircut offered in 2005. Their claims are being heard in the US Supreme Court on 12 June this year. The outcome will be critical in determining whether Argentina will be able to raise new funds on the bond market.
Argentina clinches landmark debt repayment deal with Paris Club Reuters, Leigh Thomas and Sarah Marsh (29/5/14)
Argentina Will Repay Paris Club Debt 13 Years After Default Bloomberg, Charlie Devereux and Pablo Gonzalez (29/5/14)
Argentina and the capital markets: At least they have Paris The Economist (30/5/14)
Argentina’s Paris Club Deal to Bring Investment, Kicillof Says Bloomberg, Charlie Devereux (30/5/14)
Argentina Leaves Singer for Last in Preparing Bond Market Return Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Camila Russo and Katia Porzecanski (30/5/14)
Argentina in deal with Paris Club to pay $10bn debts BBC News (29/5/14)
Argentina debt deal could help ease re-entry to international markets The Guardian (29/5/14)
Argentina agrees deal to pay back $10bn debt The Telegraph (29/5/14)
- What is the Paris Club? Why did the recent meeting of the Paris Club concerning Argentina’s debt not include the IMF?
- What moral hazards are involved in (a) defaulting on debt; (b) offering debt relief to debtor countries; (c) agreeing to pay bond holders who did not accept the haircut?
- In hindsight, was it in Argentina’s interests to default on its international debts in 2001?
- Assume a country has a severe debt problem. What are the benefits and costs of using devaluation (or depreciation) to tackle the problem?
The IMF has just published its 6-monthly World Economic Outlook report. The report is moderately optimistic, arguing that ‘global activity has broadly strengthened and is expected to improve further in 2014–15’. World growth is expected to rise from 3.0% in 2013 to 3.6% in 2014 and 3.9% in 2015,
Much of the impetus for an acceleration in growth is expected to come from advanced countries. Growth in these countries is expected to average 2¼% in 2014–15, a rise of 1 percentage point compared with 2013. Part of the reason is that these countries still have large output gaps and thus have considerable scope to respond to rises in aggregate demand.
Monetary policy in advanced countries remains accommodative, although the USA has begun to taper off its quantitative easing programme. It is possible, however, that the ECB may make its monetary policy more accommodative, with signs that it might embark on quantitative easing if eurozone growth remains weak and if the risks of deflation rise. If the average price level in the eurozone does fall, this could dampen demand as consumers defer consumption until prices have fallen.
As far as emerging economies are concerned, growth is projected to ‘pick up gradually from 4.7 percent in 2013 to about 5 percent in 2014 and 5¼% in 2015’. Although predicted growth is higher in emerging countries than in advanced countries, its acceleration is less, and much of the predicted growth is dependent on rising export sales to the advanced countries.
Global growth, however, is still fragile. Emerging market economies are vulnerable to a slowing or even reversal of monetary flows from the USA as its quantitative easing programme winds down. Advanced countries are vulnerable to deflationary risks. ‘The result [of deflation] would be higher real interest rates, an increase in private and public debt burdens, and weaker demand and output.’
The UK is predicted to have the strongest growth (2.9%) of the G7 countries in 2014 (see above chart). But the IMF cautions about being too optimistic:
Growth has rebounded more strongly than anticipated in the United Kingdom on easier credit conditions and increased confidence. However, the recovery has been unbalanced, with business investment and exports still disappointing.
IMF: World economy stronger; recovery uneven USA Today, Paul Davidson (8/4/14)
Emerging markets feel the pressure The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (8/4/14)
IMF cuts downturn danger to near zero Financial Times, Chris Giles (8/4/14)
IMF warns eurozone and ECB on deflation threat RTE News (8/4/14)
Recovery strong but risk shifts to emerging markets: IMF CNBC, Kiran Moodley (8/4/14)
IMF: World economy is stronger but faces threats Bloomberg Businessweek, Christopher S. Rugaber (8/4/14)
IMF: UK economic growth to reach 2.9% in 2014 BBC News (8/4/14)
IMF: UK economic growth to reach 2.9% in 2014 BBC News, Hugh Pym (8/4/14)
Five signs that the global economic recovery may be an illusion The Guardian, Larry Elliott (6/4/14)
Report and data
World Economic Outlook (WEO) International Monetary Fund (8/4/14)
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (8/4/14)
- Why does the IMF expect the world economy to grow more strongly in 2014 and 2015 than in 2013?
- What are the greatest risks to economic growth for (a) advanced countries; (b) developing countries?
- What geo-political events could negatively affect economic growth in (a) the eurozone; (b) the global economy?
- In what ways is the UK’s economic growth unbalanced?
- How much credence should be given to economic forecasts?
- Should countries’ economic performance be judged primarily by their growth in GDP?
Finance ministers and central bank officials of the G20 countries are meeting in Sydney from 20 to 23 February. Business leaders from these countries are also attending and have separate meetings.
Amongst the usual discussions at such meetings about how to achieve greater global economic stability and faster and sustained economic growth, there are other more specific agenda issues. At the Sydney meeting these include a roundtable discussion to identify practical solutions to lift infrastructure investment. They also include discussions on how to clamp down on tax avoidance through means such as transfer pricing.
The G20 meetings of finance and business leaders take place annually. There are also annual summits of heads of government (the next being in Brisbane in November 2014).
The G20 was formed in 1999 to extend the work of the G8 developed countries to include other major developed and developing countries plus the EU. In 2008/9 it played a significant role in helping devise policies to tackle the banking crisis and combat the subsequent recession. At the time there was a common purpose, which made devising common policies easier.
Since then, the importance of the G20 has waned. Partly this is because of the divergent problems and issues between members and hence the difficulty of reaching agreements. Partly it is because, to be effective, it needs to remain small but, to be inclusive, it needs to extend beyond the current 20 members. Indeed there has been considerable resentment from many countries outside the G20 that their views are not being represented. Some representatives from non-G20 countries attend meetings on an informal basis.
The following articles discuss the role of the G20 and whether it is fit for purpose.
Janet Yellen vs. the world: The issues at the G20 finance summit Globe and Mail (Canada), Iain Marlow (20/2/14)
Turning ideas into action at the G20 Business Spectator (Australia), Mike Callaghan (21/2/14)
Boosting infrastructure investment can prove G20’s value to the world The Conversation, Andrew Elek (20/2/14)
Can the G20 ever realise its potential? The Conversation, Mark Beeson (21/2/14)
G20 has failed to fulfil its promise of collaboration amid hostility The Guardian, Larry Elliott (20/2/14)
Official G20 site
G20 Priorities G20
Australia 2014 G20
- Which countries are members of the G20? Compile a list of those countries you feel ought to be members of such an organisation.
- What are the arguments for and against increasing the membership of the G20 (or decreasing it)?
- Why is Janet Yellen, Chair of the US Federal Reserve, likely to be at odds with leaders from other G20 countries, especially those from developing countries?
- Why have the tensions between G20 members increased in recent months?
- Discuss possible reforms to the IMF and the G20’s role in promoting such reforms.
- What insights can game theory provide in understanding the difficulties in reaching binding agreements at G20 meetings? Are these difficulties greater at G20 than at G8 meetings?
- Should the G20 be scrapped?