Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And in real news today

The Greek government continues to try to borrow, yesterday its two year government bond rates were priced an at annual interest rate of just over 39%.

Great investment? No. It's the swansong before the funeral march.  Anyone lending the Greek government demanding such rates sees it as having a high risk of default.  A default that will reverberate loudest in Dublin, Lisbon, Madrid and Rome, but will buffet Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Helsinki, Luxembourg, Nicosia, Valetta, Bratislava, Tallinn, Ljubljana and of course, Berlin directly.  However, the echos will go throughout Europe and be heard globally, for it will be the beginning of the end of the Euro as we know it. 

If journalism wasn't full of solipsistic onanists obsessed with News International, then there would be more than a smattering of well written articles hidden in papers about all of this. 

EU politicians are caught between two unpleasant facts:

1.  Politicians in the "south" of the EU have spent the past generation largely bribing voters with other people's money lent to them at preferential rates.  The other people have started giving up lending it, and the politicians haven't the courage or moral fibre to admit that the state largesse of recent years must end or that taxpayers will have to pay a lot more to get it.  The people in those countries are unwilling to accept either, and blame the lenders for the largesse, not the people they elected who borrowed it on their behalf.

2. Politicians in the "north" of the EU are concerned that if governments in the "south" default, it will be their lenders that lose out.  The banks, insurance companies, pension funds, private investors and businesses who saw lending to profligate socialist politicians in the south as being a "secure investment", risk losing billions.   However, voters and taxpayers in the "north" don't care.  They haven't elected politicians who have been quite so profligate in spending money that they had to borrow, and haven't had lifestyles and living standards substantively propped up by such blatant socialism as retirement ages in the 50.  They don't want to bail out the "south" nor do they care that investors in their countries will swallow the cost of it, as long as it doesn't affect their savings (it shouldn't) or their pensions (it might).

Politicians of the "south" have nothing left to offer, they are almost universally a disgrace, and their philosophy and attitude (and that of their predecessors) has produced a false golden age for their countries.

Politicians of the "north" want to bailout the governments of the south, to avoid bailing out the banks and investors who lent to them, but know that voters in their countries are not amused.   What they want is to control the spending and tax policies of the countries of the "south" in exchange for bailing them out - for otherwise, how can they be brought under control to behave better?

So Germany and France will seek to bring all Eurozone countries under central fiscal policy control, in other words, it wont be up to the Parliaments in Athens, Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, etc. as to levels of tax, or levels of spending, it will be up to either the one in Brussels/Strasbourg, or something new.   

Call it the Commonwealth of Eurozone States, or the United States of Europe, or the European Soviet Socialist Republics, or the Union of Eurozone States, but it will be a wholesale surrender of state sovereignty to a super-state.

Will the people of the countries of the "south" tolerate this?  They will be told they have no choice, it is either that or they are expelled from the Eurozone (which does not mean they cannot use Euros, but does mean they would have no role in formulating monetary policy). Ireland, in particular, will baulk at surrendering its highly competitive low company tax rate, which politicians in Paris and Vienna have been keen to attack, among others.

The bigger issue is not only will the countries of the "south" baulk at this, but also will others not in crisis.  Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia may all wonder why they left the yoke of centrally planned economies to have joined a new ones.  Estonians and Slovaks will not want to have swapped control from Moscow (and for Slovenes, from Belgrade) for control from Brussels.  I suspect the Dutch too will be fed up.  France and Germany, and their virtual satellites Belgium and Austria, will happily go along with it as they will have the power in any central fiscal union.

Ultimately, it can only go one of three ways:
- A Eurozone bailout that creates a new fiscal union among Eurozone members, extracating sovereignty from national capitals to the EU and having to implement tax and spending policies in line with France and Germany;
- A Eurozone default, resulting in countries exiting the Eurozone, with dire consequences for their national banking systems, their creditors and needing to implement austerity policies on a grand scale because of the complete inability to borrow;
- Agreement to a massive austerity programme by the Greek government that cuts the budget deficit suddenly and dramatically, reducing the pressure on creditors.

All in all, the countries of the "south" face severe spending cuts and probable tax increases no matter how it goes.  

For countries outside the Eurozone, the biggest concern is managing the fallout from whatever happens, for it is likely to hurt.  As Allister Heath in City AM today says:

Osborne and his advisers ought to be working day and night on contingency plans in case the Eurozone collapses or the US defaults, not worrying about ex-tabloid journalists.

The British government should be ensuring it has no part in any bailout of the Eurozone, that it may be willing to re-accommodate Ireland seeking to abandon the Euro, in favour of the currency of its largest trading partner (if it so chooses) and to lead an effort to restructure and reform the European Union into a looser customs union, with a smaller central role, without grand vanity projects, without grandiose corporate welfare systems, without interference in national economic or social policies beyond basic rules on non-discrimination and freedom of trade and movement of citizens.  If some EU Member States want more control, let them have it, keep Britain out of it.  If the EU project is about to splinter, then let the UK lead efforts to recraft it into something worth salvaging, a basic treaty that keeps borders down and markets open, but does not demand that countries embark on grand unifying projects of statism.

In the meantime, can people simply remember that the Liberal Democrats, Tony Blair, the BBC and the Independent were all wrong on all of this?  (and yes, Gordon Brown was right, along with William Hague, Margaret Thatcher, Nigel Farage, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail were right).

1 comment:

Jeremy Harris said...

Interesting as always Liberty.