The Irish “rescue package” finalized over the weekend is a disaster. You can say one thing for the European Commission, the ECB and the German government: they never miss an opportunity to make things worse.
It pains me to say this. I’m probably the most pro-euro economist on my side of the Atlantic. Not because I think the euro area is the perfect monetary union, but because I have always thought that a Europe of scores of national currencies would be even less stable. I’m also a believer in the larger European project. But given this abject failure of European and German leadership, I am going to have to rethink my position.
The Irish “program” solves exactly nothing – it simply kicks the can down the road. A public debt that will now top out at around 130 per cent of GDP has not been reduced by a single cent. The interest payments that the Irish sovereign will have to make have not been reduced by a single cent, given the rate of 5.8% on the international loan. After a couple of years, not just interest but also principal is supposed to begin to be repaid. Ireland will be transferring nearly 10 per cent of its national income as reparations to the bondholders, year after painful year.
He says as Ireland cannot devalue its currency it needs to devalue internal prices i.e wages and and costs. This has been a problem for all EMU economies as it worsens the economic sentiment and brings lot of pain to public. His solution lower the debt first:
For internal devaluation to work, therefore, the value of debts, expressed in euros, has to be reduced. This would have been particularly easy in the Irish case. A bright red line could have been drawn between the third of the government debt that guarantees the obligations of the banks, on the one hand, and the rest of the government’s debt, on the other. The third representing the debts of the Irish banking system could have been restructured. Bondholders could have been offered 20 cents on the euro, assuming that the Irish banks still have some residual economic value. If those banks are insolvent, the bondholders could – and should – have been wiped out.
Irish public debt would then have topped out at maybe 100% of GDP. And the Irish program would have had a hope of working. As it is, the program will have to be revisited, perhaps as soon as next year. Investors know this, which is why Irish spreads have barely budged.
In the end he says:
One can interpret the intransigence of the German government and its EU allies in two ways. First, they understand neither economics nor politics. As Tallyrand said of the Bourbons, “They have learned nothing, and they have forgotten nothing.”
Alternatively, policy makers in Germany – and in France and Britain – are scared to death over what Ireland restructuring its bank debt would do to their own banking systems. If so, the appropriate response is not to lend to Ireland – to pile yet more debt on the country’s existing debt – but to properly capitalize their own banking systems so that the latter can withstand the inevitable Irish restructuring.