-Laurence Copeland is professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.-
Fear of lending to banks is rising again in Europe, as even a 750 billion euro zone rescue package proves not enough to stem fears that the banking system will prove the weak link when southern European nations can’t meet their obligations.
Europe desperately needs to get out in front of its solvency problem, Greek edition; not because it is right, not even because it will work in the long term, but to stem rapid and costly contagion through financial markets to other weak links in the euro zone, not least to banks.
Goldman Sachs has a lot to be thankful for – huge bonuses, massive taxpayer subsidies, unrivalled political influence – but in Greece they have finally found nirvana: a highly profitable business partner who can also credibly serve as the villain in the piece.
The drama unfolding in Athens contains all the usual ingredients for a modern crisis. Poorly disclosed derivative transactions. Inadequate accounting for off-balance sheet liabilities. Investment banks eager to structure complex transactions in return for fat fees. And a furtive but gullible government that thought it could get something for nothing.
The reality of 'political economy' is something that irritates many economists -- the "purists", if you like. The political element is impossible to model; it often flies in the face of textbook economics; and democratic decision-making and backroom horse trading can be notoriously difficult to predict and painfully slow. And political economy is all pervasive in 2010 -- Barack Obama's proposals to rein in the banks is rooted in public outrage; reading China's monetary and currency policies is like Kremlinology; capital curbs being introduced in Brazil and elsewhere aim to prevent market overshoot; and British budgetary policies are becoming the political football ahead of this spring's UK election. The list is long, the outcomes uncertain, the market risk high.