Greece CAN Go it Alone

By Marshall Auerback and Warren Mosler

Greece can successfully issue and place new debt at low interest rates. The trick is to insert a provision stating that in the event of default, the bearer on demand can use those defaulted securities to pay Greek government taxes. This makes it immediately obvious to investors that those new securities are ‘money good’ and will ultimately redeem for face value for as long as the Greek government levies and enforces taxes. This would not only allow Greece to fund itself at low interest rates, but it would also serve as an example for the rest of the euro zone, and thereby ease the funding pressures on the entire region.  

We recognize, of course, that this proposal would also introduce a ‘moral hazard’ issue. This newly found funding freedom, if abused, could be highly inflationary and further weaken the euro.  In fact, the reason the ECB is prohibited from buying national government debt is to allow ‘market discipline’ to limit member nation fiscal expansion by the threat of default. When that threat is removed, bad behavior is rewarded, as the country that deficit spends the most wins, in an accelerating and inflationary race to the bottom.

It is comparable to a situation where a nation like the US, for example, did not have national insurance regulation.  In this kind of circumstance, the individual states got into a race to the bottom, where the state with the laxest standards stood to attract the most insurance companies, forcing each State to either lower standards or see its tax base flee. And it tends to end badly with AIG style collapses.

Additionally, the ECB or the Economic Council of Finance Ministers (ECOFIN) effectively loses the means to enforce their austerity demands and keep them from being reversed once it’s known they’ve taken the position that it’s too risky to let any one nation fail.   

What Europe’s policy makers would like to do is find a way to isolate Greece and mitigate the contagion effect, while maintaining the market discipline that comes from the member nations being the credit sensitive entities they are today; hence, the mooted “shock and awe” proposals now being leaked, which did engender an 8% jump in the Greek stock market on Thursday.

But these proposals don’t really get to the nub of the problem. Any major package weakens the others who have to fund it in the market place, because the other member nations are also revenue dependent, credit sensitive entities. Much like the US States, they do not control central bank operations, and must have good funds in their accounts or their checks will bounce.

The euro zone nations are all still in a bind, and their mandated austerity measures mean they don’t keep up with a world recovery. And Greek financial restructuring that reduces outstanding debt reduces outstanding euro financial assets, strengthening the euro, and further weakening output and employment, while at the same time the legitimization of restructuring risk weakens the credit worthiness of all the member nations. 

It does not appear that the markets have fully discounted the ramifications of a Greek default.  If you use a Chapter 11 bankruptcy analogy, large parts of the country would be shut down and the “company” (i.e. Greece Inc) could spend only its tax revenues.  But the implied spending cuts represent a further substantial cut in aggregate demand and decreased revenues, in a most un-virtuous spiral that ends only with an increase in exports or privation driven revolt. 

The ability of Greece to use the funds from the rescue package as a means to extinguish Greek state liabilities would improve their financial ratios and stave off financial collapse, at least on a short term basis, with the side effect of a downward spiral in output and employment, while the sovereign risk concerns are concurrently transmitted to Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and beyond. Those sovereign difficulties also morph into a full-scale private banking crisis which can quickly extend to bank runs at the branch level.

Our suggestion will rescue Greece and the entire euro zone from the dangers of national government insolvencies, and turn the euro zone policy maker’s attention 180 degrees, back to their traditional role of containing the potential moral hazard issue of excessive deficit spending by the national governments through the Stability and Growth Pact. If the member states ultimately decide that the Stability and Growth Pact ratios need to be changed, that’s their decision. But the SGP represents the euro zone’s “national budget”, precisely designed to prevent the hyperinflationary outcome that the “race to the bottom” could potentially create. At the very least, our proposal will mitigate the deflationary impact of markets disciplining credit sensitive national governments and halting the potential spread of global financial contagion, without being inflationary. 

4 responses to “Greece CAN Go it Alone