In his latest Financial Times column Wolfgang Münchau concurs with much of what I have written on the Greek social economy’s deep coma and on the reasons why investors are piling in but goes on to suggest that Greece should seriously consider exiting the Eurozone.
I offer here an evaluation of his argument. In brief, I argue that, while Münchau’s assessment of the situation on the ground is spot on, the use of the ‘nuclear option’ (i.e. threatening to exit the Eurozone) is neither desirable nor necessary as a means of forcing Europe to change its ways. The Grand Greek Paradox of the day, meaning the impressive rise in the assets of a nation more bankrupt than ever, is neither that grand nor that much of a paradox. There is, indeed, a simple reason that international investors are piling in to buy some of the nation’s paper assets (e.g. the freshly minted government bonds and shares in some banks), even though the country is economically kaput and its government is steeped in long-term insolvency more than ever. What’s this simple reason? The short-term decoupling of the value of paper assets from Greece’s real economy.
Take for instance the new bonds, worth €3 billion, issued last week. This new debt has been added to the existing stockpile of €320 billion for a shrinking economy with a nominal GDP, currently, around €180 billion. To service it next year alone (in 2015), the government must achieve a gargantuan primary surplus of 12.5% of GDP and use it all to redeem debt (while Greeks are in the clasps of untold misery and only 10% of the 1.3 million unemployed receive any benefits). Why would a self-interested investor buy these new bonds, in view of the unsustainability of the country’s overall debt? The answer is, of course, that Berlin and Frankfurt have signalled to investors that there is nothing to worry about.