Martin Wolf has written an article entitled “intolerable choices for the eurozone” in FT citing Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research, who outlined a new threat of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). A must read article. Wolf ends with these words…
The eurozone confronts a choice between two intolerable options: either default and partial dissolution or open-ended official support. The existence of this choice proves that an enduring union will at the very least need deeper financial integration and greater fiscal support than was originally envisaged. How will the politics of these choices now play out? I truly have no idea. I wonder whether anybody does.
Here is the data and reasoning that brings him to that depressing conclusion…
The ESCB’s finance flows via the euro system’s real-time settlement system (“target-2”). Huge asset and liability positions have now emerged among the national central banks, with the Bundesbank the dominant creditor (see chart). Indeed, Prof Sinn notes the symmetry between the current account deficits of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain and the cumulative claims of the Bundesbank upon other central banks since 2008 (when the private finance of weaker economies dried up).
Government insolvencies would now also threaten the solvency of debtor country central banks. This would then impose large losses on creditor country central banks, which national taxpayers would have to make good. This would be a fiscal transfer by the back door. Indeed, that this is likely to happen is quite clear from the striking interview with Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, a member of the board of the European Central Bank, in the FT of May 29 2011.
Prof Sinn makes three other points. First, this backdoor way of financing debtor countries cannot continue for very long. By shifting so much of the eurozone’s money creation towards indirect finance of deficit countries, the system has had to withdraw credit from commercial banks in creditor countries. Within two years, he states, the latter will have negative credit positions with their national central banks – in other words, be owed money by them. For this reason, these operations will then have to cease. Second, the only way to stop them, without a crisis, is for solvent governments to take over what are, in essence, fiscal operations. Yet, third, when one adds the sums owed by national central banks to the debts of national governments, totals are now frighteningly high (see chart). The only way out is to return to a situation in which the private sector finances both the banks and the governments. But this will take many years, if it can be done with today’s huge debt levels at all.
Debt restructuring looks inevitable. Yet it is also easy to see why it would be a nightmare, particularly if, as Mr Bini Smaghi insists, the ECB would refuse to lend against the debt of defaulting states. In the absence of ECB support, banks would collapse. Governments would surely have to freeze bank accounts and redenominate debt in a new currency. A run from the public and private debts of every other fragile country would ensue. That would drive these countries towards a similar catastrophe. The eurozone would then unravel. The alternative would be a politically explosive operation to recycle fleeing outflows via public sector inflows. (link to article)
What is the MMT response to this bombshell?
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mer O’Siochru is a qualified architect and valuation surveyor. She was a founder of Feasta and served on its executive committee for many years. She is director of EOS Future Design which designs and develops sustainable systems and settlements. She also manages the Feasta-led Smart Tax Network which is funded by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to develop tax policies in areas related to the environment. She lives in Dublin.