Teaching PIIGS to Fly

If Greece does not restore fiscal sustainability and competitiveness, a partial bailout by the EU and the ECB will become necessary in order to avoid the risk of contagion to the rest of the euro zone. That is why a credible IMF program that ties financial support to the progressive achievement of fiscal and structural reform goals is the right solution.

NEW YORK – Greece’s fiscal problems are, as I have argued many times, but the tip of a global iceberg. For the next installment of the recent global financial crisis will be rising sovereign risk, especially in advanced economies that run massive budget deficits and accumulate large stocks of public debt as they socialize private financial losses in order to revive economic growth.

Indeed, history suggests that severe recession and socialization of private losses often lead to an unsustainable build-up of public debt. Moreover, financial crises triggered by excessive debt and leverage in the private sector are followed after a few years by sovereign defaults and/or high inflation to wipe out the real value of public debts.

Greece is also the canary in the coal mine for the euro zone, where all the PIIGS economies (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) suffer from the twin problems of public-debt sustainability and external-debt sustainability. Euro accession and bull-market “convergence trades” pushed bond yields in these countries toward the level of German bunds, with the ensuing credit boom supporting excessive consumption growth.

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