Did poverty rapidly increase in countries like Greece? Yes, according to Eurostat data. The poverty level in Greece is after steep increases at the moment the highest of any non-Eastern European EU country. Indices of ‘material deprivation'(see below) also show steep increases in Hungary as well as (albeit at a lower level) in Italy, the UK and Spain. In the Baltic countries comparable increases could be witnessed, though levels are going down at the moment. Poland, close to the Baltic countries and having a somewhat comparable economic history, did however not witness any kind of ‘Baltic’ increase. Remarkably, the level in Iceland, which also experienced a financial crisis but which pursued a less creditor friendly policy, did not increase.
In the sense that there now exists in the economics profession an implicit and perverse intellectual hierarchy which is premised on the understanding that the less of what you do is related to the real world, the cleverer you are. So, if you are really clever, you would do mathematical modelling of a kind that has nothing to do with the real world. You would do something on the Turing machine [a theoretical computing device] or on information cascade or some such thing. If you are a little less clever, you would do econometrics, and if you are not even that clever, you would work on monetary policy or development economics. And, if you are not even that good, you would do economic history. But if you are the worst, you would go around factories interviewing managers. So, the leadership of the profession is moving towards abstraction for the sake of abstraction.
This has resulted in the shutting down of courses such as the history of economics, history of economic thought, philosophy of economics and other such fields. Basically, teaching economics has become like one of the other trades, like becoming a plumber or a bricklayer, as if it is about providing students with a set of skills which they can apply. There is no encouragement of critical thinking or teaching of real-world issues.
A Cyprus style money destruction ‘solution’ for Greece is still in the cards – and I’m afraid that the continued monetary inaction of the ECB brings it closer. One might cry ‘moral hazard’ about guaranteed ‘Emergency Liduidity Assitance’ (ELA, or QE which actually works) from the ‘Eurosystem’ to the Greek banks but on this blog we did warn about the dire consequences of ECB inaction in 2011 and 2012. And we were right: these consequences – increasing deflation and crisis, higher debts compared with income – materialized and the ECB has to face its responsibilities for its inaction. Mind that, at this moment, Greece has a surplus on the current account and a primary government while it leads the other austerity countries by a lap when it comes to cutting wages, employment and entitlements and reforming the labour market. It did do its austerity homework (which is of course why its economy is in tatters). Be that as it may: until the ECB comes to its economic senses the already gasping Greek economy is increasingly smothered. And Greece will have to do a ‘Münchhausen’ to pull itself out of the monetary mire. Which is not entirely impossible, though the banks won’t like it. See graph 1.
A relatively quick short- as well as long-term fix is to increase the ‘moneyness’ and liquidity of ‘receivables’. Irish companies managed, compared with Spanish companies, to mitigate the Irish liquidity crunch by increasing the amount of receivables on their balance sheets (remember, interest rates are very low, which helps). In the end these debts have to be paid but a monetary easing of 70% of GDP, as in the Irish case, would not be bad, in Greece. The Greek government can increase the moneyness of ‘receivables’ by moving them up in the bankruptcy pecking order (they will have to get preferential treatment compared with bank debts), by enabling companies to use them (with a ‘haircut’) to pay tax arrears, by using smart technology and algorithms to enable ‘clearing’ (a matching problem). This increase of moneyness will also increase the asset value of receivables, which will make Greek companies more willing to keep them on their balance sheets.In the end, Euro’s will still be needed, but that’s why ELA was invented.
Since 2007, the increase of the wealth of Dutch pension funds has been much larger than the value of the entire government debt. The Dutch are however still cutting pensions as the ‘risk free rate’ used to discount future obligations is decreasing. Between 1992 and 2014, average return on investment was a whopping 7,9%. In the future, this will be quite a bit lower (Back of the envelope: lower inflation:-2%. Lower increase of population: -0,5% Lower economic growth: -0,5%). The ‘risk free rate’ (which is hardly risk free, as it changes all the time) is however supposed to be 1,9% – while the real rate of return in 2014 was 14,5%….The point is that many households or building corporations (who, in the Netherlands, own a lot of houses), are eager to re-finance their mortgage and loans with a 3% new loan (which is about 50% higher than the 1,9% rate). No, that’s not risk free either. But helping households to refinance might be a less risk strategy, in a macro-economic sense, than cutting pensions. Read more…
Minimum wages in European austerity countries: Greece is different (but not as you are made to expect)
In Januari 2015, Germany introduced a new economy wide minimum wage of Euro 1473,–, about the same level of the Irish minimum wage and slightly higher than the French level. The mimimum wage in Greece is 684,–, considerable higher than the 390,– Estonian level but clearly below the 757,– Spanish level. See these Eurostat data. The Eurostat statisticians point out that Greece was the only country to decrease its minimum wage between 2008 and 2015 (-19%). It is interesting to compare Greece with other austerity countries, which are supposed to be a shining example for Greece. Lowering the minimum wage is clearly not a silver bullet when it comes to job growth. Read more…
Here, you will find the list with the Greeks government reform proposals.
Update (14:21 CET):
(A) There is no such thing as a blueprint for an effective ‘mixed’ economy. The effective functioning of markets and the government (including taxes and spending) is based upon consistency with historically contingency. What works in the West-Germany might not work in (former) East-Germany.
(B) With this in mind, the Greek proposals seem better designed than the measures in the Cypriot Memorandum of Understanding. The Greek proposals are much less bank centered – and therewith more balanced (more bluntly: the Greek plan admits that there are actually people living in Greece).They also take the crisis into account, not just as a shock to the banking system but to the entire Greek society (and therewith the eurozone…)
(C) At least to me the Greek measures seem to be more practical and to the point than the Cypriot ones which are either incredibly vague or overly precise (see points i and m on p. 46: abolishing the siësta, with a table with office times attached). But this requires a thorough point by point comparison.
(D) The Greek proposal is less depenndent on the use of phrases like ‘comprehensive reforms’, ‘sustainable improvement’, ‘relevant elements’, ‘necessary amendments’, ‘appropriate level’, ‘effective intervention’, ‘appropriately differentiated’, ‘promptly published’ (nice one!), ‘adequate and accurate information’ etcetera, etcetera. Whisfull phrasing.
(E) The Greek proposals are more revolutionary than the Cypriot MoU, surely when it comes to taxes, the efficiency of government and the broadening of the tax basis. They may, however, also be more consistent with historically contingency – and therwith with the evolutionary survival of Greek society.
And the Cypriot government of course has: “to allow for efficient seizure of property collateral”. Please, read Dean Baker on ‘right to rent‘.
“We wanted to make sure that the … money for Greek bank recapitalisation is for that purpose, not for recapitalisation of the government,” Dijsselbloem said.
Bild-Zeitung, the largest newspaper of Europe, owned by Axel-Springer press, tells its readers that the money used to bail out Greece is used ‘for instance’ to pay pensioners and teachers. It does not tell its readers that by far the larger part of it is used to bail out creditors and refinance debts… Inspired by a weekend during which I did not have internet but did have Bild-Zeitung acces (and therefore learned nothing about the macro-econmics of the situation), Inspired by the multi-layered writing of Bild, I thought this might be a way to state the Bild-framing:
(Look here for Günter Walraff, who wrote a ‘reality beats satire’ book about his stint at this journal which portrays a cynical, nihilist world. This is the way Walraff ‘celebrated’ fifty years of Bild). Read more…
There is a meme-war going on. One of the meme’s is that the new Greek president hired 850.000 new civil servants when he was minister of the interior in a former Greek government. And though the man clearly isn’t a new broom it is sobering to look at the graph. The total amount of employees in the Eurostat ‘Mainly government’ sector at its peak hardly surpassed 900.000. Which may have been too high but to anybody stating this: please, show me that Greek health workers and teachers are worthless leeches instead of trusted, dedicated public workers. Which is indeed something the ECB should do more carefully, as its minutes show that fuzzy memes as the statement above (not even a half-truth) do influence the discussion. Yes, the ECB is, finally, publishing its minutes. Read more…
from Lars Syll
ATHENS — I am writing this piece on the margins of a crucial negotiation with my country’s creditors — a negotiation the result of which may mark a generation, and even prove a turning point for Europe’s unfolding experiment with monetary union.
Game theorists analyze negotiations as if they were split-a-pie games involving selfish players. Because I spent many years during my previous life as an academic researching game theory, some commentators rushed to presume that as Greece’s new finance minister I was busily devising bluffs, stratagems and outside options, struggling to improve upon a weak hand.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
If anything, my game-theory background convinced me that it would be pure folly to think of the current deliberations between Greece and our partners as a bargaining game to be won or lost via bluffs and tactical subterfuge.
You can trust a con man to double down on his lying and cheating whenever something – or someone – is exposing his lies. Which is exactly what Schauble, minister of finance of Germany does. And I don’t mind. He is a politician – it is what he is supposed to do. But that’s the point. Much of the press believes him, for instance when he – or somebody from his coterie around him, like mr. D. – is talking about Greece. And he will only be as honest as the press forces – forces! – him to be. At one point, even the existence of Greek ideas and plans was put into question. Well, here they are, via a part of the Greek press which, by the way, is owned by the oligarchy. The failure of the press clearly is not caused by any kind of class struggle. It’s just bad reporting. An excerpt (mind the realist ‘mark-to-market’, non-dogmatic and even bourgeois nature of the piece): Read more…
Greece is champion reformer. According to austerity mythology, we did not have a financial but a ‘rigidity’ crisis, aggravated by uncompetitive price levels. Which had to be solved with structural reforms and by bringing the price level (read: wages) down. Which is what Greece did, much more than any other country. But, as we do not have a rigidity crisis but a monetary crisis this did not work, of course. Some data: via Frances Coppola we learn that Greece has been the most ardent reformer of the entire Eurozone (graph 1, OECD data). Via Paul Krugman we learn that no country cut government expenditure as much as Greece (by a long shot: graph 2, Eurostat data). And Eurostat also teaches us that no country has been as succesful as Greece in lowering relative and even absolute prices (graph 3, Eurostat data). Coppola and Krugman are, understandable, aghast about the hypocrisy of the prime ministers of Ireland and Finland, who are lecturing Greece about something which it did much more succesfully than they did. And then there is the argument: “the Irish suffered for nothing, so the Greek have to suffer too“. Sigh.
Remark: the Krugman graph jpg has a lot of white below the actual graph.
Graph 1. OECD shows that Greece did reform
Update (CET 21:00). The ‘negotiations’ have broken down. Let’s quote Varoufakis (considering the way the ‘negotiations’ broke down some people are genuinely afraid of something, maybe it is this, emphasis added):
“I am often asked: What if the only way you can secure funding is to cross your red lines and accept measures that you consider to be part of the problem, rather than of its solution? Faithful to the principle that I have no right to bluff, my answer is: The lines that we have presented as red will not be crossed. Otherwise, they would not be truly red, but merely a bluff.
But what if this brings your people much pain? I am asked. Surely you must be bluffing.
The problem with this line of argument is that it presumes, along with game theory, that we live in a tyranny of consequences. That there are no circumstances when we must do what is right not as a strategy but simply because it is … right.
Against such cynicism the new Greek government will innovate. We shall desist, whatever the consequences, from deals that are wrong for Greece and wrong for Europe. The “extend and pretend” game that began after Greece’s public debt became unserviceable in 2010 will end. No more loans — not until we have a credible plan for growing the economy in order to repay those loans, help the middle class get back on its feet and address the hideous humanitarian crisis. No more “reform” programs that target poor pensioners and family-owned pharmacies while leaving large-scale corruption untouched.
Our government is not asking our partners for a way out of repaying our debts. We are asking for a few months of financial stability that will allow us to embark upon the task of reforms that the broad Greek population can own and support, so we can bring back growth and end our inability to pay our dues.”
In ‘Chronicle of a death foretold‘ Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of twins who, as they have to save their face, have to kill another man. Or at least have to show in a credible way that they intend to do so. So they set up an ambush. And tell everybody that they will kill this other man, hoping – trusting, as they live in a small village – that somebody will tell this other man to change his normal ways and to avoid the place of the ambush. An unbelievable but true string of coincidences however prevents this from happening. And the other man walks, like every other day, towards the place of the ambush. Which makes the twins run out of options and they have to kill him…
The Eruozone saga increasingly reminds me of this story. Read more…
1) More than 300 people searching for work and a better life drown in the Mediterranean.
“The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says more migrants are dying because search and rescue efforts have been reduced. Italy’s major patrol and rescue operation ended last year. A smaller scale EU operation, Triton, took over. The UNHCR says about 3,500 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2014.”
2) The problem with NIIP (Net International Investment Position). Does running a current account surplus for decades make a country richer? Not necessarily so. For one thing, it is quite difficult to estimate the value of ‘NIIP’. For another, the net position is the result of large gross positions, which means that a limited decline of the value assets may turn a positive net position into a negative position despite positive current account flows, which is what happened in the Dutch case. For quite some time, the decline of the value of international financial assets was larger than the (whopping) current account surpluses of the Netherlands.
3) Real-estate banking crowds out productive investment: “We also find some evidence of a financial Dutch disease – the faster the growth of financial services and the larger the lending-deposit interest spread, the slower the growth of the manufacturing sector”.
4) During the housing busts the number of houses sold often declined faster and more than prices. Why? Read more…
Kevin Gallagher’s new book on emerging markets and the re-regulation of global finance
It’s always difficult to explain the glaring obvious. Read more…
One of the imbalances of the Euro system are the Target2 claims. These claims are a kind national, non-government American Express credit card debts owed to foreigners which were paid down using the overdraft facility of the national private banks at the national central bank. To be able to do this, the national central bank borrows from a foreign national. These imbalances are large: many hundreds of billions of Euro. Interest rates on Target2 debts are low but as the total amount of money is huge total interest still is quite a bit of money. Germany is the main ‘foreign’ national bank. And the Bundesbank did earn a huge amount of interest:
Diogenes, always ready to mock ‘social contrivances’ (to quote a famous Paul Samuelson definition of money), was kicked out of Sinope because he debased the currency. In Greece, at this moment, the opposite is happening: the price level is declining. Read more…
Links. The emerging markets merits of statehood, manufacturing, UK trade, Germany 1871-1873 vs. present day New York
A) My latest from ‘De Vrije Fries’ (in Dutch). The state, the church and the price of land. Rents of clerical land in Frriesland, 1511-1543. Or: ‘pay for the dikes or for the ferryman’. After the Habsburgers bought (!) Friesland they started establishing a state. As a consequence, the area was pacified and coastal levees were improved while, even more important, the financing of these levees was, finally, improved and communalized. As a results, there was an end to the washing away of Friesland and land rents increased quite a bit, much more than can be explained by the sixteenth century price revolution. A tantalizing question:did the growth of a state (including an early transition to Roman law) enable/force people to transform into ‘burghers’ which, according to their increasingly detailed probate inventories, possessed quite a number of note books which enabled them to keep track of all kinds of ‘petty debts’, (Knibbe, 2007)? Did this give preponderance to the ‘economic motive’, as opposed to the ‘honour’ motive of the medieval Friesian clan society (in the fifteenth century, the only brick buildings in Friesland were churches and small castles. After about 1530, many of these small castles were broken down and a rapidly increasing number of farms were at least partly made of bricks)? Read more…
I’m afraid I’ve got to react to Antonio Fatas, who shows that (A) Spanish productivity increased relatively fast after 2008 while (B) German and UK and Dutch productivity actually declined. This explains a lot of the differences in unemployment in these countries: when GDP declines with about 6% and GDP per worker increases with 10% employment (measured in workers) will decline by 16% (as happened in Spain). When (as happened in the UK) GDP declines with 2% but GDP per worker declines with 5% – employment will actually increase. The regular reader of this blog is aware of this. It’s good that Fatas points this out.
But that’s not why I react. In a twitter reaction, @miotei, “Senior Analyst, International Political Economy, Elcano Royal Institute. Author of ‘The Euro, the Dollar and the Global Financial Crisis‘”, states: ‘Yes, sadly Spanish workers seem to work a lot harder when they feel they will lose their job“.
Sadly, @miotei, who has a job as an economic advisor with serious responsibilities and can make people lose their job when he gives the wrong advise, clearly did not do his homework and should have worked a lot harder. The large arithmetical increase of Spanish productivity is NOT caused by ‘reforms’ but by the epic decline of low productivity construction, which arithmetically led to a rise of average productivity of the entire economy. Look here. A more generalized critique of using macro productivity data as indicators of competitivety can be found here. Macro-economics is to an extent the science of weighted averages of weighted averages which is pretty compicated complicated as the weights shift all the time. @miotei should have known this. He didn’t. Should he loose his job? Or might it be better when he feels that he, a spanish economist, has a mission: working to restore Spanish prosperity and employment by giving sound advises aimed at employing people and the journey to an economy were Spanish people are treated with dignity by at least senior economic analysts?
from Mark Weisbrot
Everyone seems to agree that Syriza’s big victory in Greece is a milestone for Europe, which has been plagued by mass unemployment and a failure to really recover from the financial crisis and world recession of 2008-09. But what kind of a milestone will it be? We can get some ideas from focusing on a few key issues, especially economic policy, which remain surrounded by much confusion in the public debate.
Alexis Tsipras himself, the charismatic 40-year old leader of Syriza who has become the country’s youngest prime minister in 150 years, declared on Sunday that “Democracy will return to Greece.” This was mostly overlooked as mere political rhetoric, but it was actually a concise political statement that goes to the core of not only Greece’s but the eurozone’s main problem. All we need to do is compare the recovery of the United States – which was the epicenter of the earthquake that shook the world economy in 2008 and 2009 – and that of Europe, to see what a difference democracy makes. Read more…