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The Euro Crisis & Greece:
5 Mistakes
Jeffrey Frankel
Harpel Professor
MIT, Stata Center, room 32-155
5pm , Friday, Dec. 2nd, 2011
5 mistakes made by euroland’s
leaders regarding Greece
Slender rays of hope:
– The hour of the technocrats
– Proposals for the future
5 mistakes made by euro leaders
Admitting Greece to the €, a country that was not ready.
Pretending to enforce the fiscal criteria:
The Maastricht criteria
“No bail out” clause
Stability & Growth Pact.
Allowing Mediterranean countries’ bonds spreads near 0
– helped by investors’ under-perception of risk (2003-07)
– and artificial high credit ratings. But also
– ECB acceptance of Greek bonds as collateral.
When the crisis hit, the leaders buried their heads in the sand:
2 years ago, sending Greece to the IMF was “unthinkable.”
1 year ago, restructuring of the debt was “unthinkable.”
The Treaty of Maastricht (1991) surprised many
economists by emphasizing fiscal criteria
as qualifications for membership:
BD < 3% of GDP & Debt < 60% of GDP.
Why did the designers do it?
Theory I: Jason
& the Golden Fleece
Theory II: Theseus
& the stone
Theory III: Odysseus
& the mast.
Frankel, Economic Policy (London) 16, April 1993, 92-97.
The motivation
for the Maastricht fiscal criteria is clear
the same as for the No Bailout Clause
and the Stability & Growth Pact (1997):
Skeptical German taxpayers believed that,
before the € was done, they would be asked to
bail out profligate Mediterranean countries.
European elites adopted the fiscal rules to
demonstrate that these fears were groundless.
After the euro came into existence
it became clear the German taxpayers had been right
– and the European elites were wrong.
E.g., Greece persistently violated the 3% rule.
The large countries violated the rule too.
SGP targets were “met” by overly optimistic forecasts.
SGP threats of penalty had zero credibility.
Yet each year the ostrich elites stuck
their heads deeper & deeper into the sands.
In most years, the true Greek budget deficit
was far in excess of the supposed limit (3% of GDP).
and yet the official budget forecasts were always rosy.
Until, in 2009, the bottom fell out of the budget.
Source: Frankel & Schreger (2011)
At the time of Maastricht,
some economists had hoped that euro
countries with deficits/debts would be
kept in line, as U.S. states are,
– esp. by an automatic market rise in interest rates,
– with no expectation of federal bailout.
– Alesina, et al (EP, 1992) and Goldstein & Woglom (1992).
Why didn’t that mechanism work?
Spreads help keep profligate US states in line
= reason why no state has ever been bailed out by
the Federal government, despite some defaults.
Yield to
in %
Source: W.B. English, „Understanding the costs of sovereign default …,“ p. 269. as used by Holtfrerich (2011)
California Municipal Bonds
(now the lowest rated of the 50- states)
Credit Default Swaps
Spreads for Italy, Greece, & other Mediterranean
members of € were near zero, from 2001 until 2008.
Market Nighshift Nov. 16, 2011
When PASOK leader George
Papandreou became PM in Oct. 2009,
he announced
– that “foul play” had misstated the fiscal
statistics under the previous government:
– the 2009 budget deficit ≠ 3.7%,
as previously claimed,
but > 12.7 % !
Missed opportunity
The euro elites had to know that someday
a member country would face a debt crisis.
In early 2010 they should have viewed Greece as a
good opportunity to set a precedent for moral hazard:
– The fault egregiously lay with Greece itself.
Unlike Ireland or Spain, which had done much right.
– It is small enough that the damage from debt restructuring
could have been contained at that time.
Unlike Italy now, if the worst happens.
They should have applied the familiar IMF formula:
serious bailout, but only conditional on serious
policy reforms & serious Private Sector Involvement.
But the ostriches
stuck their heads
ever further
down in the sand.
There is even less reason now to think
Brussels can impose fiscal constaints on
borrowers or ask unlimited transfers from
creditor country taxpayers than before.
Slender rays of hope, #1
Greece, Ireland & Portugal did finally go to the IMF;
Germany & banks did finally agree to write down Greek debt.
– But it has always been much too little, too late.
The only solution for the short-term:
– a lot more money
from ECB &
national governments,
– conditional country-by-country on reforms + PSI.
Slender rays of hope, #2
A government of technocrats under Mario Monti
in Italy is a huge improvement
over the disaster of Berlusconi.
Similarly Lucas Papademos in Greece
– But he has been given even less freedom of
action than Monti: his term is only 3 months
and he wasn’t allowed to pick his cabinet.
Proposals for the future: #1
Emulate Chile’s successful fiscal institutions
a) Phrase budget targets in structural terms.
b) Give responsibility for determining what is
structural to an independent professional
agency, to avoid forecast bias. (Frankel, 2011)
Proposals for the future: #2
Penalty when a euro country misses its target:
a) The ECB then stops accepting new bonds as collateral.
b) => Sovereign spread rises, with automaticity.
c) Proposal from Brueghel (JvW & ZD):
All of euroland is liable for blue bonds
(issued up to SGP limits);
Issuing country is liable for red bonds
(beyond those limits) .
d) Blue bonds share advantages with other eurobond proposals:
a) ● ECB can conduct monetary policy.
b) ● They could offer an alternative to US TBills
for PBoC & other desperate global investors
References by the speaker
“The ECB’s Three Big Mistakes,” VoxEU, May 16, 2011.
“Optimal Currency Areas & Governance", slides session on the Challenge of Europe at the Annual
Conference of George Soros’ INET, April 2011; video available, including my presentation.
"Let Greece Go to the IMF," Jeff Frankel’s blog, Feb.11, 2010.
Over-optimism in Forecasts by Official Budget Agencies and Its Implications," 2011,
forthcoming in Oxford Review of Economic Policy.
“A Solution to Fiscal Procyclicality: The Structural Budget Institutions Pioneered by
Chile,” Fiscal Policy and Macroeconomic Performance, Central Bank of Chile,
2011. NBER WP 16945, April 2011.
“The Estimated Effects of the Euro on Trade: Why are They Below Historical Evidence
on Effects of Monetary Unions Among Smaller Countries?” in Europe and the Euro,
Alberto Alesina & Francesco Giavazzi, eds. (U.Chic.Press), 2010.
"Comments on 'The euro: It can’t happen, It’s a bad idea, It won’t last. U.S. economists
on the EMU, 1989-2002,' by L.Jonung & E.Drea," slides. Euro at 10: Reflections on
American Views, ASSA meetings, San Francisco, 2009.
"The UK Decision re EMU: Implications of Currency Blocs for Trade and Business
Cycle Correlations," in Submissions on EMU from Leading Academics (H.M. Treasury:
London), 2003.
"The Endogeneity of the Optimum Currency Area Criterion" (with Andrew Rose), The
Economic Journal, 108, no.449, July 1998.
“‘Excessive Deficits’: Sense and Nonsense in the Treaty of Maastricht; Comments on
Buiter, Corsetti and Roubini,” Economic Policy, Vol.16, 1993.
Appendix: Blue bonds & red bonds
Gavyn Davies, FT