Thursday, December 22, 2011
How Bad Ideas Worsen Europe’s Debt Meltdown
December 22, 2011
Europe is as full of bad ideas as it is of bad debts.
Conventional wisdom says that sovereign defaults mean the end of the euro: If Greece defaults it has to leave the single currency; German taxpayers have to bail out southern governments to save the union.
This is nonsense. U.S. states and local governments have defaulted on dollar debts, just as companies default. A currency is simply a unit of value, as meters are units of length. If the Greeks had skimped on the olive oil in a liter bottle, that wouldn’t threaten the metric system.
Bailouts are the real threat to the euro. The European Central Bank has been buying Greek, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish debt. It has been lending money to banks that, in turn, buy the debt. There is strong pressure for the ECB to buy or guarantee more. When the debt finally defaults, either the rest of Europe will have to raise trillions of euros in fresh taxes to replenish the central bank, or the euro will inflate away.
Leaving the euro would also be a disaster for Greece, Italy and the others. Reverting to national currencies in a debt crisis means expropriating savings, commerce-destroying capital controls, spiraling inflation and growth-killing isolation. And getting out won’t help these countries avoid default, because their debt promises euros, not drachmas or lira.
Posted by Yulie Foka-Kavalieraki at 2:06 AM