Greeks Want to Stay in the Euro? Why Don’t They Move to Germany?

Above 80% of Greeks want to stay in the Euro:

About 80.9 percent of Greeks believe Greece should struggle to stay within the eurozone “at any cost,” fresh opinion polls showed on Wednesday.

Some 45.4 percent of respondents in a survey conducted by GPO firm for local private television Mega channel said that they regarded as most probable a Greek exit from the European common currency. And 48.4 percent of the respondents said that such a prospect was less likely.

But they don’t like the austerity measures that staying in the Euro entails:

About 77.8 percent expect the next government to emerge from the June 17 general elections to renegotiate the harsh austerity terms of the two bailout deals reached since May 2010 with international lenders to avoid a disorderly default

So the question is why don’t they leave Greece and move to the core where companies are hiring and public services aren’t being slashed, and where there is no overhanging threat of being thrown out of the euro?

Greeks claim that that’s exactly what they want to do:

Conducted in January by the Focus Bari company using a sample of 444 people aged between 18 and 24, the study shows 76% of interviewees believing that leaving Greece would be the best response to the effects of the economic crisis.

But they’re not doing it:

However, for most of them, the idea of leaving appears a dream that cannot come true. Half of those interviewed (53%) spoke of having thought about emigrating, while just 17% said that they had resolved to leave the country and that they had already undertaken preparatory actions.

A slightly lower percentage (14%) stated that they were forcing themselves quite consciously to stay in Greece, as it is their generation that has to bring about the changes that the country so desperately needs.

And it’s not even like they have to return home should recent immigrants become jobless — after twelve months working in another European state, Europeans are generally entitled to welfare:

Who can claim benefits in the European Economic Area (EEA)?

You may be able to get benefits and other financial support if any of the following apply:

  • you’ve lived, worked or studied (a recognised career qualification) in an EEA country
  • you’re a stateless person or refugee and you live in an EEA country
  • you’re a dependant or the widow or widower of anyone who was covered by the regulations (your nationality doesn’t matter)
  • you’re the widow, widower or child of someone who worked in an EEA country and was not an EEA national or a stateless person or refugee (but you must be a national of that country)
  • you’re not an EEA or Swiss national but legally resident in the UK
  • you’ve lived in the EEA country long enough to qualify

Just twelve months of work separates a jobless young Greek and austerity-free arbeitslosengeld

Yet this isn’t just a Greek issue. Labour mobility is much lower in Europe than the US:

The fact that labour mobility is low in Europe is indicative of a fundamental problem. In any currency union or integrated economy it is necessary that there is enough mobility that people can emigrate from places where there is excess labour (the periphery) to places where labour is in short supply.

Now, there is free movement in Europe, which is an essential prerequisite to a currency union. But the people themselves don’t seem to care for utilising it.

Why? I can theorise a few potential reasons people wouldn’t want to move — displacement from friends and family, moving costs, local attachment.  Yet none of those reasons are inapplicable to the United States. However there are two reasons which do not apply in the United States — language barriers and national loyalty. It is those reasons, I would suggest, that are preventing Europe from really functioning as a single economy with a higher rate of labour mobility.

The people who built the Euro realised that such problems existed, but decided to adopt a cross-that-bridge-when-we-come-to-it approach:

I am sure the Euro will oblige us to introduce a new set of economic policy instruments. It is politically impossible to propose that now. But some day there will be a crisis and new instruments will be created.

Romano Prodi, EU Commission President, December 2001

But long-term and deep-seated issues like language barriers and nationalistic sentiment cannot simply be eroded away in a day with an economic policy instrument. No bond-buying bazooka can smooth the underlying reality that Europe — unlike the United States — is not a single country.

Greeks who want to stay in the euro in the long run would do well to move to the core.


The Fed Confronts Itself

From Matt Taibbi:

Wall Street is buzzing about the annual report just put out by the Dallas Federal Reserve. In the paper, Harvey Rosenblum, the head of the Dallas Fed’s research department, bluntly calls for the breakup of Too-Big-To-Fail banks like Bank of America, Chase, and Citigroup.

The government’s bottomless sponsorship of these TBTF institutions, Rosenblum writes, has created a “residue of distrust for government, the banking system, the Fed and capitalism itself.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

First, this managerialism is nothing new for the Fed. The (ahem) “libertarian” Alan Greenspan once said: “If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big.”

Second, the Fed already had a number of fantastic opportunities to “break up” so-called TBTF institutions: right at the time when it was signing off on the $29 trillion of bailouts it has administered since 2008. If the political will existed at the Fed to forcibly end the phenomenon of TBTF, it could (and should) have done it when it had the banks over a barrel.

Third, capitalism (i.e. the market) seems to deal pretty well with the problem of TBTF: it destroys unmanageably large and badly run companies. Decisions have consequences; buying a truckload of derivatives from a soon-to-be-bust counter-party will destroy your balance sheet and render you illiquid. Who seems to blame? The Fed; for bailing out a load of shitty companies and a shitty system . Without the Fed’s misguided actions the problem of TBTF would be long gone. After a painful systemic breakdown, we could have created a new system without any of these residual overhanging problems. We wouldn’t be “taxing savers to pay for the recapitalization of banks whose dire problems led to the calamity.” There wouldn’t be “a two-tiered regulatory environment where the misdeeds of TBTF banks are routinely ignored and unpunished and a lower tier where small regional banks are increasingly forced to swim upstream against the law’s sheer length, breadth and complexity, leading to a “massive increase in compliance burdens.”

So the Fed is guilty of crystallising and perpetuating most of these problems with misguided interventionism. And what’s the Fed’s purported answer to these problems?

More interventionism: forcibly breaking up banks into chunks that are deemed not to be TBTF.

And what’s the problem with that?

Well for a start the entire concept of “too big to fail” is completely wrong. The bailout of AIG had nothing to do with AIG’s “size”. It was a result of systemic exposure to AIG’s failure. The problem is to do with interconnectivity. The truth is that AIG — and by extension, the entire system — was deemed too interconnected to fail. Many, many companies had AIG products on their balance sheets. If AIG had failed (and taken with it all of that paper, very generously known as “assets”) then all those companies would have had a hole blown in their balance sheets, and would have sustained losses which in turn may well have caused them to fail, bleeding out the entire system.

The value that seems to matter in determining systemic robustness is the amount of systemic interconnectivity, in other words the amount of assets on balance sheets that are subject to counter-party risk (i.e. which become worthless should their guarantor fail).

Derivatives are not the only such asset, but they make up by far the majority:

Global nominal exposure is growing again. And those derivatives sit on global balance sheets waiting for the next black swan to blow up a hyper-connected counter-party like AIG. And such a cascade of defaults will likely lead to another 2008-style systemic meltdown, probably ending in another goliath-sized bailout, and another few rounds of the QE slop-bucket.

The question the Fed must answer is this: what difference would it make in terms of systemic fragility if exposures are transferred from larger to companies to smaller ones?

Breaking up banks will make absolutely zero difference, because the problem is not the size but systemic interconnectivity. Losses sustained against a small counter-party can hurt just as much as losses sustained against a larger counter-party. In a hyper-connected system, it is possible for failed small players to quickly snowball into systemic catastrophe.

The Fed (as well as the ECB) would do well to remember that it is not size that matters, but how you use it.

Changing the Rules of the Game

The ECB just changed the rules of the European debt game.

From Zero Hedge:

The ECB, on its own and without judicial or parliamentary review, has swapped their Greek debt for new Greek debt that is not subject to any “collective action clause.” They did this unilaterally and without the consent of any other sovereign debt bond owners of Greek debt. They did this without objection of any nation in Europe. They have retroactively changed the indenture, the contract made by Greece with all of the buyers of their bonds, when the debt was issued. There is no speculation involved in these statements, there is no longer any guesswork on what might be; the ECB swapped their bonds for new Greek bonds with the assent of the Greek government and it is now a done deal.

We know now that the ECB can retroactively change the rules, change an indenture, so that if the ECB can do this with Greece then it can certainly do it with any sovereign debt in Europe.

Since the ECB can now retroactively change any bond contract to whatever it likes and with any nation in its dominion then the valuation of European sovereign debt must be re-examined for what it really is which is no longer what anyone previously thought. Starkly put; the bonds issued by the sovereign nations in Europe are no longer pari passu, on equal footing, with the bonds issued in the United States. We have just passed a clearly defined “break point” where the legal rules were changed to the great disadvantage of all the private debt holders.

The European Central Bank, in a very misguided attempt to protect itself, has now opened Pandora’s Box. I doubt if they even realize what they have done; but they will, most assuredly they will. The consequences of their horrendous mistake will soon be upon them as institutions not coerced or forced into buying European sovereign debt will be leaving the playing field en masse as the realization dawns upon investors of just what has taken place.

The point of this is quite shocking.

From Bloomberg:

The European Central Bank is swapping its Greek bonds for new ones to ensure it isn’t forced to take losses in a debt restructuring, three euro-area officials said yesterday.

Bill Gross of PIMCO sums up:

Now perhaps the protestations are just the vain rumblings of creditors who don’t like having to take a haircut: after all, all investments carry such a risk. On the other hand, it’s one thing to duplicate money to pay back debt (the “normal option”) and it’s quite another to effectively enforce a change to the terms of private contracts by curtailing pari passu. But — in this case — the “normal option” of printing the money to pay back the debt is not available to Greeks.

The point is that if the ECB can do this it means that all debt denominated in Euros is subordinated. This will (eventually, once the market gets the message) cause a collapse of demand in European sovereign debt.

Either borrowing costs will massively spike, crashing the system, or the ECB will go on a money printing binge. These two options have been discussed above. German attitudes to monetary expansion are frosty to say the least, but at this stage I think all options are on the table.

Euro Psychoanalysis

Joe Wiesenthal does some interesting analysis on Greece:

In a post last night, economist Tyler Cowen asked: “Is the goal simply to irritate the Greeks so much that they leave the Eurozone on their own?”

Here’s what might be going on.

Sometimes in life you give someone a “shot” at something that maybe they don’t deserve. You hire them, despite the fact that their qualifications were marginal. Or something like that. Bottom line is, you think you’re doing them a favor, and you’re also putting your reputation on the line a little bit. But you expect that they’ll step up and really appreciate the opportunity they have. And you expect they’ll kill it.

And when they fail — which is likely, because they might not have deserved the opportunity — you’re furious at them, because you gave them this great opportunity and they totally blew it, and they made you look like an idiot at the same time. And you just hate them for it.

And that’s what’s going on now. Europe feels like it gave Greece a “shot” with Euro membership, and multiple bailouts. And now it looks to Greece, and sees people rioting, and the reforms not happening, and they’re furious like never before. Merkel, Schaeuble, and the rest just can’t fathom that Greece was given this great shot to be a rich, wealthy European nation and it’s totally blowing it.

Well, if that’s so, Europe never really understood the creature it was creating. For all the talk of the supposed various benefits of the Euro — lower inflation, integrated markets, and so forth— its one huge dilemma — that nations were now budgeting in a currency they didn’t control, and so could not just monetise debt — was always brushed aside. Of course, policymakers were aware of some of the problems, at least in an abstract sense.

As Romano Prodi put it in 2001:

I am sure the Euro will oblige us to introduce a new set of economic policy instruments. It is politically impossible to propose that now. But some day there will be a crisis and new instruments will be created.

I suppose what was never understood was that the problems might grow and multiply to the extent that they would pose a threat to global economic stability before such “policy instruments” were created.

I suppose the moral of the story is that it is dangerous to create systems with inherent problems, and assume that the solutions to these problems will naturally emerge later at a time of “crisis”.

And certainly, there does seem to be a sense of punishing Greece for their fiscal misdeeds (even though Germany themselves were the first nation to violate the Eurozone’s deficit rules).

From the BBC:

Some eurozone countries no longer want Greece in the bloc, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos has said.

He accused the states of “playing with fire”, as Greece scrambled to finalise an austerity plan demanded by the EU and IMF in return for a huge bailout.

Simply, if Europe wants to maintain the global status quo, the ECB needs to crank up the printing press, and fast, to pump huge liquidity into the system. Of course, this creates huge problems down the road, as exemplified by Japan.

If not, they had better be ready for huge changes to the global financial order. Personally, I believe that the global financial system is fundamentally broken, and that printing more money, kicking the can down the road and hoping for the best will just lead to a worse and bigger breakdown down the line. I favour liquidation. But policymakers can be very reactionary.

European Leaders Scrabble For Agreement

From the BBC:

The outline of a large and ambitious eurozone rescue plan is taking shape, reports from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington suggest.

It is expected to involve a 50% write-down of Greece’s massive government debt, the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston says.

The plan also envisages an increase in the size of the eurozone bailout fund to 2 trillion euros (£1.7tn; $2.7tn).

European governments hope to have measures agreed in five to six weeks.

The bizarre thing is that the real issue is not whether or not some agreement can be reached, but whether or not any agreement will really have any real effect on the state of the European financial system. I am extremely dubious that the thrifty Scandinavian and Germanic nations will commit huge swathes of their wealth to save the Mediterranean ones. But even if an expanded EFSF can be brought together to successfully bail out Greece and recapitalise European banks who have to write down significant chunks of Greek debt, there is no guarantee whatever that any of these measures will address the underlying fracture in European budgeting. Namely, that European governments are spending like they are monetarily sovereign — in other words, behaving as if they can print as much money as they want to cover debts — when they are not.

Of course, there is no real guarantee that Europe will even effectively stabilise its banking system.

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China’s Monetary Endgame

Last week we brought you a window into China’s geostrategic endgame: buying up as much of the world as it can get out of its dollars. Now thanks to Wikileaks we have an insight into where China is going monetarily: a gold-backed yuan.

From Wikileaks:

“According to China’s National Foreign Exchanges Administration China ‘s gold reserves have recently increased. Currently, the majority of its gold reserves have been located in the U.S. and European countries. The U.S. and Europe have always suppressed the rising price of gold. They intend to weaken gold’s function as an international reserve currency. They don’t want to see other countries turning to gold reserves instead of the U.S. dollar or Euro. Therefore, suppressing the price of gold is very beneficial for the U.S. in maintaining the U.S. dollar’s role as the international reserve currency. China’s increased gold reserves will thus act as a model and lead other countries towards reserving more gold. Large gold reserves are also beneficial in promoting the internationalization of the RMB.”

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