Thursday, April 15, 2010

Greek Tragedy Spreading

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson reflect on the implications of the Greek bailout for Portugal and the EU. Key highligh:

The bailout of Greece, while still not fully consummated, has brought an eerie calm in European financial markets. It is, for sure, a massive bailout by historical standards. With the planned addition of IMF money, the Greeks will receive 18% of their GDP in one year at preferential interest rates. This equals 4,000 euros per person, and will be spent in roughly 11 months.

Despite this eye-popping sum, the bailout does nothing to resolve the many problems that persist. Indeed, it probably makes the euro zone a much more dangerous place for the next few years.

The key problem now is how to control fiscal profligacy. There seems to be no restraint, especially if the EU will bailout anyone who gets in trouble. As Boone and Johnson note:

Pity the serious Portuguese politician who argues that fiscal probity calls for early belt tightening. The EU, the ECB, and the Greeks have all proven that the euro zone nations have no threshold for pain, and EU money will be there for anyone who wants it. The Portuguese politicians can do nothing but wait for the situation to get worse, and then demand their bailout package too. No doubt Greece will be back next year for more. And, the nations that “foolishly” already started their austerity, such as Ireland and Italy, must surely be wondering whether they too should take the less austere path.
The question is how long with Germany be willing to live with this system.