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?
The east African countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda have been operating with a common external tariff for some time. The East African Community (EAC), as it is known, came into force in 2000. Initially it had just three members, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; the other two countries joined in 2007. As the Community’s site says:
The EAC aims at widening and deepening co-operation among the Partner States in, among others, political, economic and social fields for their mutual benefit. To this extent the EAC countries established a Customs Union in 2005 and are working towards the establishment of a Common Market in 2010, subsequently a Monetary Union by 2012 and ultimately a Political Federation of the East African States.
This Common Market came into force on 1 July 2010, with free movement of labour being instituted between the five countries. The plan is also to do away with all internal barriers to trade, although it may take up to five years before this is completed.
The following articles and videos look at this significant opening up of trade in east Africa and at people’s reactions to it. Will all five countries gain equally? Or will some gain at the others’ expense?
East African Countries Form a Common Market New York Times, Josh Kron (1/7/10)
Dawn of an era for East Africans The Standard, John Oyuke (1/7/10)
5 East African countries create common market The Associated Press, Tom Maliti (1/7/10)
FACTBOX-East African common market begins Reuters (1/7/10)
Bold plan to have single EAC currency by 2012 Daily Nation, Lucas Barasa (1/7/10)
East Africa’s common market begins BBC News, Tim Bowler (30/6/10)
East Africa: Poor Road, Railway Network Holding Back Integration allAfrica.com, Zephania Ubwani (1/7/10)
Challenges for one East Africa Common Market The Sunday Citizen, James Shikwati (4/7/10)
Common market barriers NTVKenya (on YouTube) (2/7/10)
The fruits of E.A.C. NTVKenya (on YouTube) (2/7/10)
The East African Community (EAC)
- Distinguish between a free trade area, a customs union, a common market and a monetary union.
- How is it possible that all five countries will gain from the establishment of a common market?
- Distinguish between trade creation and trade diversion. Under what circumstances is the establishment of a common market more likely to lead to (a) trade creation; (b) trade diversion?
- Why do some people worry about the consequences of free movement of labour with the EAC? How would you answer their concerns?
- What factors would need to be taken into account in deciding whether or not the five countries would benefit from forming a monetary union?
Over the past week, Greece has been hogging the headlines when it comes to debt crisis. However, there is concern that there are a number of other countries ‘where credit defaults swaps are unusually high, suggesting there is risk in terms of default’. Greece’s deficit stands at 12.7% (£259bn), which is over 4 times higher than EU rules allow and its debt levels are expected to reach 120% of GDP this year if help is not given. Furthermore, if Greece’s debt problems are not tackled, there is a worry that other countries with big deficits, such as Portugal and Spain will become vulnerable. Public spending in Greece had been rising for some time but the tax revenue hadn’t increased to match this. As government spending rose and tax revenues fell, the growing debt was inevitable.
What is just as concerning is the cost of servicing this debt. This is costing Greece about 11.6% of GDP and the Greek government has estimated that it will need to borrow €53bn this year to cover budget shortfalls. Strikes by public-sector workers have also affected the country, as figures show that the unemployment rate has increased to 10.6%.
However, there are now reports that an agreement has been reached at the EU summit to rescue Greece and help it tackle its debt problems. Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s President, said that an agreement had been reached. The news was immediately welcomed by jittery markets, with the euro regaining some of its losses. Initially, it was thought that British taxpayers would be a part of any bailout package, but Alistair Darling, said there was no plan to use UK taxpayers’ money to support Greece. When asked about the comparison of the UK with Greece, Alistair Darling commented that:
“I don’t think you can compare the UK with Greece. We have different policies. We have a very good track record and, most importantly, the maturity of UK debt is much longer.”
The EU summit was officially meant to cover medium-term European economic strategy, but it was dominated by the Greek crisis. Germany and France are likely to stand together and pledge to come to Athens’s aid by guaranteeing Greek solvency, but only time will tell whether this will happen or will work.
EU leaders reach deal to rescue Greece from debt crisis, President Barroso says Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (11/2/10)
Mervyn King on Greece, Britain’s deficit and a hung Parliament Telegraph (10/2/10)
FTSE rises amid Greece rescue hopes The Press Association (11/2/10)
Greece’s unemployment rate hits 10% BBC News (11/2/10)
Debt crisis: Experts see more skeletons tumbling News Center (11/2/10)
EU deal ‘agreed’ on Greece debt woes BBC News (11/2/10)
Greek bailout deal reached at EU summit Guardian, Ian Traynor and Graeme Wearden (11/2/10)
Greek bailout would hurt Eurozone – Germany’s Issing Reuters (29/1/10)
Greece must meet deficit target to get aid Reuters (11/2/10)
Could bailout be on the cards for Greece BBC News (10/2/10)
Germans must start buying to save Europe’s stragglers Financial Times, Martin Wolf (10/2/10)
Thinking the unthinkable BBC News Blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (11/2/10)
Angela Merkel dashes Greek hopes of rescue bid Guardian, Ian Traynor (11/2/10)
Greece faces devaluation, default or deflation. Next stop the IMF Guardian, Larry Elliott (11/2/10)
Germany demands austerity, not bailout, for spendthrift Athens Guardian, Ian Traynor (11/2/10)
See also the Guardian podcast in the news item, Debt and the euro
See too the news item from October 2008, The eurozone – our economic saviour?
- What is the cause of Greece’s debt problems?
- According to the European Central Bank chief economist Otmar Issing, a Greek bailout would weaken the euro and hurt the reputation and image of the eurozone. How can we explain this?
- What do we mean by servicing a debt?
- How could Greece’s debt problems cause problems for other countries with large debts, such as Ireland, Portugal and Spain?
- Which country is better off: the UK or Greece?
- Who will be the loser from a bailout?
- Are the EU rules about debt and deficit levels a good thing or are they too restrictive to be helpful?
- What are the arguments for and against the ECB increasing its target rate of inflation, say to 4%, as a means of stimulating recovery?