Bailouts: a band-aid solution for continuing sovereign debt crises
BAILOUTS were the band-aid solution prescribed for the Greek sovereign debt crisis. And every indication suggests that Greece will require another band-aid early next year.
In this context, Clarke and Dawe raise an interesting and often carefully overlooked question. Where does the money come from to bail out basket case economies? Countries whose finances are in such a state of disarray that they were not only unable be repay their original debts but will almost certainly be unable to repay the subsequent bail out money.
In the case of Greece, the money has come from the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF, which is all well and good. Saving Greece is possible since it is only the 13th largest economy in the European Union.
Compare this with Italy which is the 3rd largest economy in the Eurozone, and has public debts of around 125% of GDP (second only to Greece). Standing at around $2.5 trillion, Italy’s gross external debt is simply too big to bail out. If Italy should default on its debts, as well it might, then this could spell the end of the Eurozone.
Looking slightly further afield, we see the USA (~$17 trillion of public debt) and Japan (~$14 trillion of public debt). These two countries continue to run large fiscal deficits, to rely on foreign creditors (who for the moment seem happy to continue fueling government excess), and are also the largest donors to the IMF. For these two countries, there are no lenders of last resort.
Both countries appear to be aware of their precarious position, and have engaged in a number of rounds of Quantitative Easing (read: printing money). QE is a remedy of last resort which aims to create price inflation and thereby reduce the real value of government debt. Printing money is often associated with hyper-inflation and is the kind of solution you would expect from leaders like Robert Mugabe (hyperinflation in Zimbabwe was estimated at 6.5 sextillion percent in November 2008).
Bailouts are only a band-aid solution for government excess. They don’t work in the long run, and they don’t work if the country is too big to bail out. We can only hope that Greece, the USA, Japan, and other countries decide to get their fiscal houses in order. Failure to do so may result in more loss of blood than can be remedied by a few band-aids.