Bailouts and Accountability

Der Spiegel Online reports that the EU is getting close to an agreement to expand the ability of the EU to continue bailing out Greece (and by extension, the rest of the PIGS of Europe).  This expansion of capacity is shaping up to be in the range of €1-€2 trillion ($1.4-$2.8 trillion).  The expansion is intended to work like insurance; it’s a 20%-30% “first loss guarantee:” European taxpayers, via the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), will guarantee up to a 20% or 30% loss incurred by the lenders—ensuring that those not involved in the investment at all will suffer the first 20%-30% loss before the investors lose a penny.

This comes against a backdrop of negotiations over how much of a loss those private lenders should be “required” to take compared to the degree of loss the guarantors should take, keeping in mind that ultimately, the guarantors are the taxpayers of the citizens of the EU member nations—the citizens whose tax monies ultimately fund those central banks.  The present agreement concerning the size of the “haircut” is that private lenders should expect losses of 21% of their investment, and the good citizens of the member nations should absorb the rest of any losses.  Berlin and Paris are currently dickering over whether that “haircut” should be raised all the way to 50% before the taxpayers pick up the rest of the bill.

Europe thinks, by propping up a bankrupt Greece, it’s learning from the United States’ handling of the Lehman Brothers failure during the beginnings of the Panic of 2008.  Our government’s decision was to allow a failing institution to fail, and the EU observes all that followed from that collapse.  But as other analysts have shown, that’s the wrong lesson.  The right lesson is from our government’s prior handling of a failing Bear Stearns and the decision not to let that failing institution fail.  This disastrous error created an expectation that no institution would be allowed to fail; these entities—including Lehman—can take, with impunity, severe, unhandled risks because failure from those risks will be made good by government—by taxpayers wholly unrelated to those institutions’ bets.  And we see this in the EU today: the other PIGS of Europe now expect bailouts, also; they expect to be inured against the results of their own failures.  And further, those losses, under the current régime, are not even to be paid by the taxpayers of the failing country, but by taxpayers wholly unrelated, by taxpayers of other sovereign nations, taxpayers whose hard work and personal and governmental responsibility have gained sound economies.

But who, in the end, will pay for a Greek default?  Under all of the plans currently under consideration, the citizens of fiscally responsible polities, of nations which took care of their revenues, look forward to being rewarded for their responsibility by being forced to give up their weal and transfer it to profligate spendthrifts and early retirers who, as a society, refused to take care of their own funds.  Why are the private investors, who invested private money, not expected to get barbered to the extent a free market demands?  Why must the taxpayer get his head shaved, as well, to bail out the private entities (and government banks) which made such poor investment decisions (and made such ill-considered “guarantees” of these poor investments)?

Once again, who is it that the politicians of the EU expect must pay for Greek failure to perform?  A fiscally responsibly Germany or Finland, whose hard-working and frugal citizens have developed a measure of personal and national wealth through their own efforts?  Slovakia, who move Heaven and Earth to get their fiscal house in order so they could join the EU, and whose per capita income remains about two-thirds that of wastrel Greece?  The United States (through the IMF and/or directly) with our own exploding deficits and debt?

Here is an indication of the level of integrity and responsibility that is being bailed out:

Greek citizens have deposited an estimated €200 billion in Swiss accounts, with a significant portion of that sum thought to be unreported.

And tax evasion is a national pastime for Greeks.

A question that must be asked, but which no one seems willing to ask—least of all the German government: For how long must Germany be held to war reparations (here is another demand for continuing reparations as an excuse for bailouts)?

More broadly than that, though, where is the accountability if losses are to be “guaranteed?”  Where is the risk control in a market where no one loses?  What moral hazard is being created?  Here is one outcome of that hazard: “there has been concern that EU governments would have to step in to recapitalize their banks at an immense cost to taxpayers.”  Practically, what inflation is being created for the “guaranteeing” economies when the failing economies are not allowed to go bankrupt and so to begin their recovery?

The cost of letting Greece default and then recover cleanly will be very high.  But the cost of attempting to prop up the failed Greek economy, and then Italy’s, will be far higher, especially after those economies collapse into default anyway.  And we can anticipate adding to the list Spain and Portugal.

Update: Here is another example of the integrity of the people being bailed out (sorry about the lead-in ad).  Slides 1 and 8 are instructive.

Another update:  Corrected, in the first paragraph an erroneous currency conversion from trillions of Euros into billions of dollars.  Trillions are now still trillions.

Another update: Corrected the “first loss” explanation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *