Yet another Greek bailout will change nothing without structural reform

Another bailout deal has been secured for Greece. Some of the country’s borrowing will be written off – it will be left with a debt to GDP ratio of ‘only’ 125 per cent. But is this the end of the matter or another failure by Europe’s elite to face up to the real problems?

With the Greek economy contracting by 7 per cent per year, there is every chance that any cuts in debt now will be more than matched by a fall in national income. As a consequence, debt as a proportion of national income could just keep growing. The markets may be welcoming the deal now. But the only real test of whether there is a sustainable solution to the crisis is if Greece can borrow on the open market – without support and guarantees, and at interest rates that do not cripple the economy. Clearly we are a long way from that point.

Indeed, on current trends, a solution will never be reached unless Greece leaves the euro. According to the Heritage Foundation/IEA’s index of economic freedom, Greece is the 119th most-free economy in the world. This is comfortably above North Korea but on a par with India. Greece scores particularly poorly on labour market freedoms.

The real problem is that Greece is an outlier even within the EU. For example, an average of 70 per cent of 60-64 year olds in the EU do not work. But the figure reaches 80 per cent for the most indebted countries in Europe (including Greece). Southern EU countries have also proven unwilling to deal with shadow economies that make up between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of their national income. These are structural issues and their causes can be traced back to dysfunctional labour markets, high government spending and regulation.

And this cuts to the heart of the issue. I am not a fan of Keynesian solutions to economic problems. But when you have a country with rigid labour and product markets, and a fixed exchange rate, austerity alone is not the solution.

Yes, more debt needs to be written off, but the programme of Eurozone support should be stopped within six months. We must also see radical domestic reforms – over a decade or more. At the same time, Greece must be allowed to issue its own currency. This could be done with a minor treaty change that allowed countries to issue currencies in parallel with the euro, as long as the country also withdrew from the Eurozone’s decision-making mechanisms.

If this had been done two years ago – when I first proposed the idea with Alberto Mingardi – Greece might be a very different place today. But it is never too late to rectify a mistake. Exchange rate flexibility ensures that austerity in government can be delivered while the private sector recovers. Lower government borrowing then leads to a lower exchange rate. But changes to currency arrangements and can never be a long-term solution. Sustained and radical economic reform is crucial for the Greek economy to be revived.

This article originally appeared in City AM.

Philip Booth is Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs. He is also Director of the Vinson Centre and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He also holds the position of (interim) Director of Catholic Mission at St. Mary’s having previously been Director of Research and Public Engagement and Dean of the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences. From 2002-2016, Philip was Academic and Research Director (previously, Editorial and Programme Director) at the IEA. From 2002-2015 he was Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School. He is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Federal Studies at the University of Kent and Adjunct Professor in the School of Law, University of Notre Dame, Australia. Previously, Philip Booth worked for the Bank of England as an adviser on financial stability issues and he was also Associate Dean of Cass Business School and held various other academic positions at City University. He has written widely, including a number of books, on investment, finance, social insurance and pensions as well as on the relationship between Catholic social teaching and economics. He is Deputy Editor of Economic Affairs. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and an honorary member of the Society of Actuaries of Poland. He has previously worked in the investment department of Axa Equity and Law and was been involved in a number of projects to help develop actuarial professions and actuarial, finance and investment professional teaching programmes in Central and Eastern Europe. Philip has a BA in Economics from the University of Durham and a PhD from City University.

1 thought on “Yet another Greek bailout will change nothing without structural reform”

  1. Posted 30/11/2012 at 12:41 | Permalink

    “At the same time, Greece must be allowed to issue its own currency. This could be done with a minor treaty change that allowed countries to issue currencies in parallel with the euro, as long as the country also withdrew from the Eurozone’s decision-making mechanisms”.

    How would this help exactly? This sounds like the currency depreciation argument but surely depreciation is nothing more than a fall in the value of a country’s money. Costs of living will sour as import prices rocket and Greece debases its currency to bring the value of its new currency as low as possible kicking off price inflation. Then there will be knock on effects as workers demand pay rises to compensate the resultant increased cost of living. The consequent impact of all this on the prices of Greece’s domestically produced goods may then very well offset the supposed depreciation induced boost to Greece’s exports.

    Whats wrong with the Euro is the political dimension (loss of sovereuignty) but also, if the sovereignty issue doesn’t matter and you want economics, the fact that the curency is not run on a hard money basis but instead seems destined to rival Federal Reserve Chairmen in their wanton disregard for monetary discipline – step forward Helicopter Ben and his predecessor the estranged Austrian Alan Greenspan.

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