Reforming Greek Reform

In the short to medium run, increasing Greek competitiveness requires remedies targeted at specific binding constraints faced by exporters. A Greek program that identifies these constraints and proposes remedies would be much better economics than blind adherence to the current laundry list of structural reforms.

PRINCETON – Greece's new government, led by the anti-austerity Syriza party, presents the eurozone with a challenge that it has not yet had to face: dealing with national officials who are outside the traditional European mainstream. Syriza is in many ways a radical party, and its views on economic policy are often described as hard left; but the party's take on debt and austerity is supported by many perfectly mainstream economists in Europe and America. So what sets Syriza apart?

All negotiations between debtors and creditors involve bluff and bluster to some extent. But Greece's maverick finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has taken his case boldly to the media and the public in a way that leaves little doubt as to his willingness to play hard ball.

One might expect that the negotiations between the Greeks and the "troika" (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) would be mainly about reaching an agreement about the economics of the situation. But that would be wishful thinking. The Germans, along with smaller creditor countries, are dead-set against any relaxation of austerity and are adamant that “structural reform" must remain a condition of further financing. They think that offering easier terms would be economically counterproductive, not least because it would give the Greeks an opportunity to go back to their bad old ways.