Skip to main content

6fbe670446f86f380e1ec628_tb1014.jpg Tim Brinton

The Debt Death Trap

The Greek financial saga is the tip of an iceberg of problems of public-debt sustainability for many advanced economies. All successful financial rescues require the country’s credible willingness to impose fiscal austerity and structural reforms, as well as massive front-loaded official support to avoid a rollover crisis of maturing public and/or private short-term debts.

NEW YORK – The Greek financial saga is the tip of an iceberg of problems of public-debt sustainability for many advanced economies, and not only the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain). Indeed, the OECD now estimates that public debt-to-GDP ratios in advanced economies will rise to an average of around 100% of GDP. The International Monetary Fund has recently put out similar estimates.

Within the PIIGS, the problems are not just excessive public deficits and debt ratios (in different degrees and measures in the five countries). They are also problems of external deficits, loss of competitiveness, and thus of anemic growth.

These are economies that, even a decade ago, were losing market share to China and Asia, owing to their labor-intensive and low value-added exports. After a decade that saw wages grow faster than productivity, unit labor costs (and the real exchange rate based on those costs) appreciated sharply. The ensuing loss of competitiveness manifested itself in large and growing current-account deficits and slowing growth. The final nail in the coffin was the appreciation of the euro between 2002 and 2008.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/CSOswIZ;
  1. benami155_ Ilia Yefimovichpicture alliance via Getty Images_netanyahu Ilia Yefimovich/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

    The Last Days of Netanyahu?

    Shlomo Ben-Ami

    In Israel's recent parliamentary election, voters stopped Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's leadership of the country toward xenophobic theocracy. But Israel now faces a period of political deadlock, and it remains to be seen whether Netanyahu really will be politically sidelined.

    2
  2. oneill66_getty images_world Getty Images

    The Return of Fiscal Policy

    Jim O'Neill

    With interest rates at record lows and global growth set to continue decelerating, there has rarely been a better time for governments to invest in infrastructure and other sources of long-term productivity growth. The only question is whether policymakers in Germany and elsewhere will seize the opportunity now staring them in the face.

    1

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions