The Great Debate UK

Geithner’s fudge won’t kill the euro zone debt Ouroboros

- U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner (R) leaves after talks with Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski in Wroclaw, September 16, 2011. Geithner urged euro zone ministers to leverage their 440 billion euro bailout fund and free more resources to tackle the debt crisis during a meeting on Friday, a senior euro zone official said. REUTERS/Mieczyslaw Michalak/Agencja Gazeta

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner (R) leaves after talks with Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski in Wroclaw, September 16, 2011. Geithner urged euro zone ministers to leverage their 440 billion euro bailout fund and free more resources to tackle the debt crisis. REUTERS/Mieczyslaw Michalak/Agencja Gazeta

The frosty reception given to US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at the ECOFIN meeting in Poland last week tells you all you need to know about what is wrong with the EU. The hostility was directed not at the feebleness of the advice he had to give, but at the right of an American passport-holder to offer any advice at all to the policymaking elite of Europe, who are so obviously capable of handling the crisis themselves without any outside assistance.

As far as I can tell, Geithner’s proposal amounts to leveraging the EFSF so that it can be inflated to a level sufficient to assure the markets that it has the resources to do the enormous job it has been given: bailing out Greece, Ireland, Portugal,  Spain, probably Italy and maybe even France at some point.

So, as ever, the American solution to the problem of excess leverage is… even more leverage. Financial wizardry is what Europe needs now – after all, it worked so well last time around… Risks? What risks? The additional borrowing will be guaranteed by the ECB, whose credit is cast-iron, so problem solved. Why did it take them so long to come up with an answer? If only it were so easy. Ask yourself: why is the ECB so creditworthy in the first place?

from Lawrence Summers:

The perils of European incrementalism

By Lawrence H. Summers
The views expressed are his own.

In his celebrated essay “The Stalemate Myth and the Quagmire Machine,” Daniel Ellsberg drew out the lesson regarding the Vietnam War that came out of the 8000 pages of the Pentagon Papers.  It was simply this:  Policymakers acted without illusion.  At every juncture they made the minimum commitments necessary to avoid imminent disaster—offering optimistic rhetoric but never taking steps that even they believed offered the prospect of decisive victory.  They were tragically caught in a kind of no man’s land—unable to reverse a course to which they had committed so much but also unable to generate the political will to take forward steps that gave any realistic prospect of success.  Ultimately, after years of needless suffering, their policy collapsed around them.

Much the same process has played out in Europe over the last two years.  At every stage from the first signs of trouble in Greece to the spread of problems to Portugal and Ireland, to the recognition of Greece’s inability to pay its debts in full, to the rise of debt spreads in Spain and Italy, the authorities have played out the quagmire machine.  They have done just enough beyond euro-orthodoxy to avoid an imminent collapse, but never enough to establish a sound foundation for a resumption of confidence. Perhaps inevitably, the gaps between emergency summits grow shorter and shorter.

from Breakingviews:

Euro zone crisis may be close to resolution

By Hugo Dixon
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

DAVOS, Switzerland -- The euro zone crisis may be close to resolution. There is certainly optimism among policymakers at the World Economic Forum in Davos that a comprehensive deal -- involving more discipline by peripheral nations and more help from rich nations -- could be put together in coming weeks. If so, the hot phase of the crisis could be over and even Greece would have a fighting chance of getting out of the woods.

  •