The Great Debate UK

Democracy vs. austerity

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By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

Throughout history it has always been difficult to take something away from someone once you have given it to them. Europe is finding that it is extremely difficult to reign in public finances once they start to go out of control. Democracies don’t like to vote for austerity, which is why Sarkozy lost the Presidency in France, why a radical left party came second in the Greek elections and why the Conservatives got a drubbing at last week’s local elections in the UK.

This tells us something about democracy in the western world. Governments have to manage the public finances directly – they have to sell the debt, do the sums and present budgets. However, the people who vote them into (and out of) power are the public, who rightly in most cases, believe they have worked hard, paid  taxes and deserve the services and retirement promises made to them.

So here we have the problem: some governments in the West have unsustainable debt loads and deficit levels and yet they don’t have the popular mandate to try and bring that under control. That isn’t the story all over the west. The Germans and the Dutch agree that the government books should be balanced. But if you asked the rest of Europe if they wanted to reduce public debt levels to make country finances more sustainable at the expense of public services and jobs, the recent election results suggest that you would get a resounding no.

So there isn’t one unified way of thinking about austerity in the West. Some people see it as a virtue, others as a type of hell. So what to do? Europe’s one-type fits all model that is largely designed by Germany could lead to social disorder and radical political parties grabbing the reins of power in Greece. However, the more people fight against austerity the more unlikely it is that their governments can attract enough investors to buy their debt to fund their public spending needs.

from MacroScope:

The Law of Diminishing Greeks

The Law of Diminishing Returns  states that a continuing push towards a given goal tends to  decline in effectiveness after a certain amount of effort has been expended. If this weren't the case, Usain Bolt would be able to run the mile in  less than 2-1/2 minutes.

From an economic standpoint, this law now seems to be fully in force in Greece. The latest jobs figures from the twice-bailed out euro zone country paint a bleak numerical picture of the impact of unrelenting austerity in ordinary Greeks, regardless of whether it was self-inflicted or not. To wit:

Spain, Italy and Greece are miracles waiting to happen

By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

Last November, at the time of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement, the two men in charge of our fiscal and monetary policy together delivered the gloomiest peacetime message in our history. Those of us who have been pessimistic all along were totally outflanked.

The governor of the Bank of England was absolutely right to decry the sudden vogue for technocracy. As he says, the problems in Europe are not fundamentally about a shortage of liquidity, as many commentators suggest and as politicians are only too happy to agree. They are at root about solvency, about the ability and the willingness of countries like Greece to pay their debts, and as such they are political problems which require political solutions. It is simply wishful thinking to imagine that an economics PhD somehow provides access to the secret of how to balance the books of a society which has long been living beyond its means, as have the majority of euro zone members. If it is hard for a Government with a sound electoral mandate to deliver painful medicine, it is likely to be even harder for one with no mandate at all.

from The Great Debate:

A good deal for Greece, its creditors, and Europe

Amid all the doom and gloom about Greece in the last few weeks, it is easy to overlook an important piece of good news: the debt exchange offer published by Greece on Friday with endorsement by its main private and official creditors. If implemented, this would be a major achievement and an important step toward overcoming the euro zone crisis, almost regardless of what happens next.

Under the offer, bondholders would receive 15 percent of the face value of their bonds in the form of short-term European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bonds, plus a set of new Greek sovereign bonds maturing between 2023 and 2042, with a 31.5 percent face value.

Germany should be happy to let Greece go

When the Greek crisis began, there was much talk of contagion as the greatest short-term risk. In my view, this worry is almost irrelevant because bondholders are in any case facing a haircut of over 70%, so the question of default or bailout is now merely a technical detail.

From a longer term perspective, there is also little reason for the Germans to panic over a Greek default, even if it ultimately leads to the disintegration of the euro zone. The line peddled by a number of commentators and politicians that Germany has “done very well out of the euro zone” begs the question of how well it would have done without the euro zone, a question to which I do not know the answer – but nor does anyone else.

A funny sort of Union

The pictures from Athens at the weekend showed a city in turmoil: protests turned violent, buildings were alight and an anti-German feeling was clear for all to see. German flags have been burnt as Greek politicians have agreed to yet more austerity, which means reduced pensions, a 20% cut to the minimum wage and mass layoffs in the public sector.

Added to that the EU has demanded that Greek politicians from both sides of the political aisle sign a pledge to implement cuts regardless of the outcome of the general election scheduled for April. Thus, even if the Greek people vote for an alternative to cuts the troika will insist on them.

Hungary: The Greece of Eastern Europe

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By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

It used to be Greece that was the canary in the coal mine, these days it’s Hungary. The new year got off to a bad start for the Eastern European nation after it experienced a failed bond auction, causing its bond yields to surge.

This caused major jitters across global financial markets and once again a small, relatively unknown economy is dominating the headlines and causing a massive headache for the European authorities.

Put the euro zone out of its misery

By Laurence Copeland. The author is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.

Let me make a wild guess – just a hunch, a vague feeling, the kind you get when you hear a football club chairman say “the manager has my full support”. My forecast is that the IMF monitors currently poring over the Italian government’s books will uncover a black hole somewhere, probably one big enough to swallow the euro zone, and the discovery will leave them as shocked as Captain Renault when he found there was gambling going on at Rick’s Bar in Casablanca.

from Hugo Dixon:

Chaotic catharsis

Chaos, drama and crisis are all Greek words. So is catharsis. Europe is perched between chaos and catharsis, as the political dramas in Athens and Rome reach crisis point. One path leads to destruction; the other rebirth. Though there are signs of hope, a few more missteps will lead down into the chasm.

The dramas in the two cradles of European civilization are similar and, in bizarre ways, linked. Last week's decision by George Papandreou to call a referendum on whether the Greeks were in favor of the country's latest bailout program set off a chain reaction that is bringing down not only his government but probably that of Silvio Berlusconi too.

Capitalism and democracy under threat from euro zone crisis

By Laurence Copeland. The author is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.

It takes quite a lot to make me feel sorry for politicians, especially the European variety, but I must say that Nicholas Sarkozy and particularly Angela Merkel have a right to be livid at the news that the Greek government now proposes to hold a referendum on whether they will agree to be given another gigantic dollop of aid. Having only reached agreement (of a very vague kind) at last week’s summit in the early hours of the morning, you can imagine how the French and German leaders must have felt when they discovered that their marathon negotiating sessions may all have been in vain. It seems the Greeks are now too wary of foreigners bearing gifts to accept their largesse without weeks or months of prior deliberation and debate.

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