Wednesday, 14 December 2011

When in Doubt, Stay Out

I’m with the Tories on the EU treaty veto. There are just too many unanswered questions for anyone not already implicated to sign up. Even other EU leaders are now saying they'll struggle to sell the treaty nationally

Key among those questions is how the EU can democratically enforce its fiscal rules. I say ‘democratically’, because the whole point of the European Union is to avoid the diplomatic equivalent of ‘sending the boys around’.

Graham Bishop tries to address this in his short book, "The EU Fiscal Crisis: Forcing Eurozone Political Union in 2011?".

Perhaps the best place to start is Graham's point that “Wrong behaviour in misleading investors is still wrong even if the motive is patriotism, rather than personal greed.” During the Maastricht Treaty negotiations in the early ‘90s, Graham wrote some papers that “doubted the willingness of finance ministers to discipline profligate states”. The issue was ignored at that time on the basis that member states assumed it would always be in a profligate state's interest to want to do the right thing - a version of the efficient markets hypothesis, royally debunked first by Lehman Bros et al and now Greece. Even Alan Greenspan has had to admit that, left to itself, when any organisation is in trouble it is likely to behave in a way that suits those in 'control', which is why a taxpayers' guarantee constitutes a moral hazhard.

After gamefully attempting to explain the alphabet soup that comprises the EU financial bandaid stability aparatus, Graham recommends four principles of more effective fiscal supervision:

1.       Recognise there is nominal credit risk in the debt issued by a state that can’t print its own money – traditionally, there is assumed to be no nominal credit risk on loans to central governments held to maturity, since it's assumed that if the government needs more money it will simply print it (even though this may create other problems) - this is clearly wrong for Greece, for example;
2.       Make it progressively harder for EU banks to finance the excesses of an EU member state;
3.  Insurers, pension funds and other caretakers of peoples’ savings should be similarly disincentivised from concentrating on risky public debt;
4.      “Develop necessary flanking measures".

Funnily enough, non-Eurozone investors seem to be playing by these rules, even if the Eurozone isn't.

Little wonder private investors are working hard on contingency plans for Eurozone break-up.

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