Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The EU and Greece Share a Cup of Hemlock

Since 2012, we have written about the inevitability of the events the European union are facing today, a Greek sovereign debt default, an exit from the euro currency zone, political chaos at home, and a fundamental failure of the grand European experiment.

To reach this conclusion, no complex economic models are needed.  The design of the system and the notion of divergence, along with the history of relationships within the zone, point the way.

To be sure, along the way, there were many false dawns, as European politicians do what they do best summit meetings and consultations with smiling faces and bowed heads, walking in some countryside.  Hedge fund managers used their tools to call a bottom in bond prices and got involved.

Fast forward to today, and there are no financial markets to impose any discipline on Greece.  Hedge funds have gone home chastened with their losses, and Greek sovereign debt is owed to the IMF and to the ECB, with the biggest chunk being owed to Germany.

For all the Ph.D.s among the Greek expat intelligentsia, for all the worship of game theory and Nash equilibria, Greek politicians have gone beyond brinksmanship to simple economic lunacy.  Asking the EU to wait for a Greek national referendum was irresponsible. Greek government pensioners don't want any changes in the status quo and blame outsiders, like the IMF, for their problems.  A "No" to acceding to further fiscal discipline may be a vote against the EU, but it is also a repudiation of failed Greek political parties.  It does no one any good, except to save face for the Tsipras leadership failure.

For Germany, not how French President Hollande is no longer at the Chancellor's side, as they were inseparable a few years ago, co-leaders of the European experiment, along with the IMF, now led by a French national too.  Chancellor Merkel is now by herself forcing Greece over the cliff.  Of course, she has no real choice.

The Greek alternative to fiscal austerity has been a plan in which, for example, pension payouts were guaranteed, and a plan dependent only on revenue raising through taxes on small businesses, with no more fiscal austerity.  No Ph.D. is needed to see how this plan would turn out.  So, any rational observer has to realize that Greece is no longer serious about reforming its economy to meet substantially higher growth targets.

But, since the Maastricht Treaty is silent about unilateral exits and the mechanics thereof, a Grexit really calls into question the whole value of the euro, the ECB, the ESM, and all the bureaucratic empire that has been created in Brussels.  Which peripheral member would be the next to take bitter medicine?

Although Plato took liberties with the poisoning of Socrates, in terms of describing symptoms and a drawn out death, it probably applies well to Greece and to European Union.  If Greece takes its bitter medicine and defaults, leaving the Eurozone, there will be great economic weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But, Greece will have made Europe pay a price too, finally exposing the emptiness and futility of the eurozone as it has been laid out and administered so far.

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