Monday, April 27, 2015

The coming defaults of Greece

by Charles Wyplosz


April 27, 2015

It seems that there will be no agreement between Greece and its Eurozone partners. Short of cash, the Greek government will have no choice but to suspend payment of its maturing debts. This column looks at what happens next. In brief, it will be very much up to the ECB to decide.

When thinking about Greece’s dilemma, two facts from Reinhart and Rogoff (2009) research are highly relevant:
  • Defaults on public debts are pretty mundane events; and
  • Greece is historically the world’s leading serious defaulter.
What makes the coming event interesting is that it will be the first time that a default occurs within a monetary union.

The crucial observation is that there is no automatic link between a default and monetary-union membership. As we know from previous experiments of government default within the dollar monetary union – the defaults of Orange County in California and Detroit in Michigan – a sub-central government can default and keep the currency. The unique characteristics of such events are that: 1) an exchange-rate depreciation cannot help shift expenditure to the defaulting region’s production; and 2) there is no local central bank to provide liquidity to both the government and commercial banks during the hard phase of the default.


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