Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.Spain Ignores Scotland Lesson as Catalan Independence Referendum Could Spark Civil War - Nadeem_Walayat
2.Used Car Buying From UK Dealer Top Tips, CarMotion.co.uk Real Customer Experience - N_Walayat
3.Spanish New Civil War Begins as Madrid Regime Storm Troopers Quell Catalan Independence Rebellion - Nadeem_Walayat
4.Virgin Media Broadband Down, Catastrophic UK Wide Failure! - Nadeem_Walayat
5.Are the US Markets setting up for an Early October Surprise? - Chris_Vermeulen
6.The Pension Storm Is Coming To Europe—It May Be The End Of Europe As We Know It -John_Mauldin
7.Stock Market Crash 2018; Will it Prove to be Another Buying Opportunity - Sol_Palha
8.The Profoundly Personal Impact Of The National Debt On Our Retirements - Dan_Amerman
9.Stock Market as Good as it Gets; Like 2000 With a Twist -Gary_Tanashian
10.1987 Stock Market Crash 30th Anniversary Greatest Investing Lesson Learned - Nadeem_Walayat
Last 7 days
Debt-Driven Consumer Economy Breaking Down - 23rd Oct 17
Next Wall Street Stock Market Crash Looms? Lessons On Anniversary Of 1987 Crash - 23rd Oct 17
This Super Metal Is Set To Soar By 300% - 23rd Oct 17
More New Record Highs As S&P 500 Gets Closer To 2,600 Mark - 23rd Oct 17
Another Minor Stock Market Top? - 23rd Oct 17
Bitcoin Hits $6,000, $100 Billion Market Cap As Helicopter Ben and Jamie Demon Warn The End Is Near! - 22nd Oct 17
Time for Caution in Gold Miners - 22nd Oct 17
“Great Rotation” Ahead; Will it Be Inflationary or Deflationary? - 21st Oct 17
The Trigger for Volatility, Rates and the Next Crisis - 21st Oct 17
Perks to Consider an Agent for Auto Insurance - 21st Oct 17
Emerging Megatrends Hurting Consumers - 21st Oct 17
A Catalyst of the Stock Market Bubble Bust - 21st Oct 17
Silver Stocks Comatose - 21st Oct 17
Stock Investors Ignore What May Be The Biggest Policy Error In History - 20th Oct 17
Gold Up 74% Since Last Stock Market Peak 10 Years Ago - 20th Oct 17
Labour Sheffield City Council Employs Army of Spy's to Track Down Tree Campaigners / Felling's Watchers - 20th Oct 17
Stock Market Calm Before The Storm - 20th Oct 17
GOLD Price Creates Bullish Higher Low - 20th Oct 17
Here’s the US’s Biggest Vulnerability in NAFTA Negotiations - 20th Oct 17
The Greatest Investing Lesson Learned from the 1987 Stock Market Crash - 20th Oct 17
Stock Market Time to Go All-in. Short, That Is - 19th Oct 17
How Gold Bullion Protects From Conflict And War - 19th Oct 17
Stock Market Super Cycle Wave C May Have Started - 19th Oct 17
Negative Expectations, Will the Stock Market Correct? - 19th Oct 17
Knowing the Factors Affect your Car Insurance Premium - 19th Oct 17
Getting Your Feet Wet In Crypto Currencies - 19th Oct 17
10 Years Ago Today a Stocks Bear Market Started - 19th Oct 17
1987 Stock Market Crash 30th Anniversary Greatest Investing Lesson Learned - 19th Oct 17
Virgin Media Broadband Down, Catastrophic UK Wide Failure! - 19th Oct 17
The Passive Investing Bubble May Trigger A Massive Exodus from Stocks - 18th Oct 17
Gold Is In A Dangerous Spot - 18th Oct 17
History Says Global Debt Levels Will Lead to Another Crisis - 18th Oct 17
Deflation Basics Series: The Quantity Theory of Money - 18th Oct 17
Attractive European Countries for Foreign Investors - 18th Oct 17
Financial Transcription Services – What investors should know about them - 18th Oct 17
Brexit UK Vulnerable As Gold Bar Exports Distort UK Trade Figures - 18th Oct 17
Surge in UK Race Hate Crimes, Micro-Racism, Sheffield, Millhouses Park, Black on Asian - 18th Oct 17
Comfortably Numb: Surviving the Assault on Silver - 17th Oct 17
Are Amey Street Tree Felling's Devaluing Sheffield House Prices? - 17th Oct 17
12 Real-Life Techniques That Will Make You a Better Trader Now - 17th Oct 17
Warren Buffett Predicting Dow One Million - Being Bold Or Overly Cautious? - 17th Oct 17
Globalization is Poverty - 17th Oct 17
Boomers Are Not Saving Enough for Retirement, Neither Is the Government - 16th Oct 17
Stock Market Trading Dow Theory - 16th Oct 17
Stocks Slightly Higher as They Set New Record Highs - 16th Oct 17
Why is Big Data is so Important for Casino Player Acquisition and Retention - 16th Oct 17
How Investors Can Play The Bitcoin Boom - 16th Oct 17
Who Will Be the Next Fed Chief - And Why It Matters  - 16th Oct 17
Stock Market Only Minor Top Ahead - 16th Oct 17
Precious Metals Sector is on Major Buy Signal - 16th Oct 17
Really Bad Ideas - The Fed Should Have And Defend An Inflation Target - 16th Oct 17
The Bullish Chartology for Gold - 15th Oct 17
Wikileaks Mocking US Government Over Bitcoin Shows Why There Is No Stopping Bitcoin - 15th Oct 17
How to Wipe Out Puerto Rico's Debt Without Hurting Bondholders - 15th Oct 17
Gold And Silver – Think Prices Are Manipulated? Look In The Mirror! - 15th Oct 17

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

3 Videos + 8 Charts = Opportunities You Need to See - Free

Sovereign Debt Crisis, Have We Crossed the Point of No Return?

Economics / Global Debt Crisis May 21, 2010 - 02:10 AM GMT

By: Philipp_Bagus

Economics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleA specter is haunting the world, and especially Europe: the specter of a sovereign insolvency. The acute sovereign-debt crisis is largely the result of government interventions in response to the financial crisis.

As Austrian business-cycle theory explains, the credit expansion of the fractional-reserve-banking system had caused an unsustainable boom. At artificially low interest rates, additional investment projects were undertaken even though there was no corresponding increase in real savings.


The investments were simply paid by new paper credit. Many of these investments projects constituted malinvestments that had to be liquidated sooner or later. In the present cycle, these malinvestments occurred mainly in the overextended automotive, housing, and financial sectors.

The liquidation of malinvestments is beneficial in the sense that it purges inefficient projects and realigns the structure of production to consumer preferences. Factors of production that were misused in malinvestments are liberated and transferred to projects that consumers want more urgently to be realized.

Solutions to the Crisis: Diverging Paths

In the present recession, the liquidation of malinvestments — falling housing prices and bad loans — caused problems in the banking system. Defaults and investment losses threatened the solvency of banks. The solvency problems triggered a liquidity crisis in which maturity-mismatched banks had difficulties rolling over their short-term debt.

At the time, there were alternatives available to tackle the solvency problem and recapitalize the banking system. Private investors could have injected capital into the banks that they deemed viable in the long run. In addition, creditors could have been transformed into equity holders, thereby reducing the banks' debt obligations and bolstering their equity. Unsustainable financial institutions — for which insufficient private capital or creditors-turned-equity-holders were found — would have been liquidated.

Yet the available free-market solutions to the banks' solvency problems were set aside, and another option was chosen instead. Governments all over the world injected capital into banks while guaranteeing the liabilities of the banking system. Since taxes are quite unpopular, these government injections were financed by the less-unpopular increase in public debts. In other words, the malinvestments induced by the inflationary-banking system found an ultimate sponsor — the government — in the form of ballooning public debts.

There are other reasons why public debts increased dramatically. Governments undertook additional measures to fight against the healthy purging of the economy, thereby delaying the recovery. In addition to the financial sector, other overextended industries received direct capital injections or benefited from government subsidies.

"Access to cheap credit allowed countries such as Greece to maintain a gigantic public sector and ignore the structural problem of uncompetitive wage rates."

Two prime examples of subsidy recipients are the automotive sector in the United States (for instance, the infamous "Cash for Clunkers" program) and the construction sector in Spain. Such subsidies further delayed the restructuring of the economy. Factor mobility was hampered by public works absorbing the scarce factors needed in other industries. Greater subsidies for the unemployed increased the deficit while reducing their incentives to find work outside of the overextended industries. Another factor that added to the deficits was the diminished tax revenues caused by reduced employment and profits.

Thus, government interventions not only delayed the recovery, but they delayed it at the cost of ballooning public deficits — increases which are themselves adding to preexisting, high levels of public debt. The preexisting public debts are the artifacts of war expenditures and unsustainable welfare states. As the unfunded liabilities of public-pension systems pose virtually insurmountable obstacles to modern states, in one sense the crisis — with its dramatic increase in government debts — is a leap forward toward the inevitable collapse of the welfare state.

The Situation in Europe

In Europe there is an additional wrinkle in the debt problem. At the creation of the euro, it was implicitly assumed among member nations that no nation would leave the euro after joining it. If things went from bad to worse, a nation could be rescued by the rest of the European Monetary Union (EMU). With this implicit bailout guarantee, a severe sovereign-debt problem was preprogrammed.

The assumed support of fiscally stronger nations artificially reduced interest rates for fiscally irresponsible nations. Access to cheap credit allowed countries such as Greece to maintain a gigantic public sector and ignore the structural problem of uncompetitive wage rates. Any deficits could be financed by money creation on the part of the European Central Bank (ECB), externalizing the costs onto fellow EMU members.

From a politician's point of view, the incentives in such a system are explosive: If I as a campaigning politician promised gifts to my voters in order to win the election, I can externalize the costs of those promises to the rest of the EMU through inflation — and future tax payers will have to pay the debt. Even if the government needs a bailout (a worst-case scenario), it will happen only in the distant, post-election future.

Moreover, when the crisis occurs, I will be able to convince voters that it was not caused by me, but rather that it fell upon the country as a natural disaster — or that (better still) it was caused by evil speculators. While accompanying austerity measures imposed by the EMU or IMF may loom in the future, the next election is just around the corner. In such a situation, the typical shortsightedness of democratic politicians combines with the ability to externalize deficit costs to other nations and produces an explosive debt inflation.[1]

"Greece does not seem to be on track to becoming self-sufficient in just three years."

Due to these incentives, some European states were already well on their way to bankruptcy when the financial crisis hit and deficits exploded. Markets started to become distrustful of many government promises. The recent Greek episode is an obvious example of such market distrust. As politicians want to save the euro experiment at all costs, the bailout guarantee has become explicit. Greece will receive loans from the EMU and the IMF, totaling an estimated €110 billion over the next three years. In addition, even though Greek government bonds are rated as junk, the ECB continues to accept them and has even started to buy them outright.

There also exists the danger of contagion from Greece to those other countries — such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Ireland — which have high deficits and debts. Some of them suffer from high unemployment and inflexible labor markets. A spread to these countries could trigger their insolvency — and the end of the euro. The EMU reacted to this possibility and went "all in," pledging together with the IMF an additional €750 billion support package for troubled member states in order to stem the threat of contagion.

Why Governments Cannot Contain the Crisis

Can this €110 billion bailout of Greece, combined with the €750 billion of additional promised support, stop the sovereign-debt crisis, or have we crossed the point of no return? There are several reasons why political solutions may be incapable of stopping the spread of the sovereign-debt crisis.

  1. The €110 billion granted to Greece may itself not be enough. What happens if in three years Greece has not managed to reduce its deficits sufficiently? Greece does not seem to be on track to becoming self-sufficient in just three years: it is doing, paradoxically, both too little and too much to achieve this. It is doing too much insofar as it is raising taxes, thereby hurting the private sector. At the same time, Greece is doing too little insofar as it is not sufficiently reducing its expenditures. In addition, strikes are damaging the economy and riots endanger the austerity measures.

  2. By spending money on Greece, fewer funds are available to bail out other countries. There exists a risk for some countries (such as Portugal) that not enough money will be available to bail them out if needed. As a result, interest rates charged on their now-riskier bonds were pushed up. Although the additional €750 billion support package was installed in response to this risk, the imminent threat of contagion was stopped at the cost of what will likely be higher debts for the stronger EMU members, ultimately aggravating the sovereign-debt problem still further.

  3. Someone must eventually pay for the EMU loan at 5 percent to Greece. (In fact, the United States is paying for part of this sum indirectly through its participation in the IMF.) As the debts of the rest of the EMU members increase, they will have to pay higher interest rates. Portugal is paying more for its debt already and would currently lose outright by lending money at 5 percent interest to Greece.[2] As both total debts and interest rates for Portugal increase, it may soon reach the point where it cannot refinance itself anymore. If Portugal is then bailed out by the rest of the EMU, debts and interest rates will be pushed up for other countries still further. This may knock out the next weakest state, which would then need a bailout, and so on in a domino effect.

  4. The bailout of Greece (and the promise of support for other troubled member states) has reduced incentives to manage deficits. The rest of the EMU may well think that they, like Greece, have a right to the EMU's support. For example, since interest rates may stabilize following the bailout, pressure is artificially removed from the Spanish government to reduce its deficit and make labor markets more flexible — measures that are needed but are unpopular with voters.

Sovereign-debt problems, therefore, may have reached a point beyond remedy — short of default or high rates of inflation. It is likely that with the bailout of Greece we have already passed this point of no return.

Notes
[1] For the time horizon of politicians in democracies, see Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God That Failed (Transaction Publishers, 2001).

[2] It is thus unclear whether countries that pay higher interest rates than 5 percent will participate.

Philipp Bagus is an associate professor at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid and a visiting professor at Prague University. Send him mail. See Philipp Bagus's article archives. Comment on the blog.

© 2010 Copyright Ludwig von Mises - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2017 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

Catching a Falling Financial Knife