Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The toxic legacy of the Greek crisis

by Martin Wolf

Financial Times

June 18, 2013

Two and a half thousand years ago, Greece shaped the western mind. More recently, it shaped the response to the financial crisis. Greece suffered a calamity – and others’ fear of following it justified the shift to austerity. The result has been a feeble recovery from the post-crisis recession, notably in the eurozone and the UK. Greece, alas, had the wrong crisis, at the wrong time.

Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford university tells the story in an excellent blog post. He draws on a critical evaluation by the International Monetary Fund of the programme for Greece agreed in May 2010. Here is the report’s summary of the failings: “Market confidence was not restored, the banking system lost 30 per cent of its deposits, and the economy encountered a much-deeper-than-expected recession with exceptionally high unemployment. Public debt remained too high and eventually had to be restructured, with collateral damage for bank balance sheets that were also weakened by the recession. Competitiveness improved somewhat on the back of falling wages, but structural reforms stalled and productivity gains proved elusive.”

While the programme forecast a 5½ per cent decline in real gross domestic product between 2009 and 2012, the outcome was a fall of 17 per cent. According to the OECD, the association of high-income countries, real private demand fell by 33 per cent between the first quarters of 2008 and 2013, while unemployment rose to 27 per cent of the labour force. The only justification for such a depression is that a huge fall in output and a parallel rise in unemployment is necessary to force needed reductions in relative costs on to a country that is part of a currency union. Since the Greeks want to remain inside the eurozone, they have to bear the resultant pain.


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