A commenter, A.N., objects to my argument that the big reason for the explosion in government bond yields in Spain was not its debt dynamics, which are remarkably like the UK’s, but because it does not have a lender of last resort, as the UK does.

He responds that the debt dynamics of France and Germany were just like Spain’s. But they were not similarly punished. In any case, the facts are clearly otherwise. These are the relevant data for the three mentioned countries. It is quite clear that Spanish debt dynamics are far worse than those of France and Germany. Read more

“Fiscal easing and further use of the government’s balance sheet should be considered if downside risks materialize and the recovery fails to take off. In particular, if growth does not build momentum and is significantly below forecasts even after substantial additional monetary stimulus and further credit easing measures, planned fiscal adjustment would need to be reconsidered. Under these circumstances, gains from delaying fiscal consolidation could be larger as multipliers are estimated to move inversely with growth and the effectiveness of monetary policy. To preserve credibility, reconsidering the path of consolidation should be in the context of a multi-year plan focused on further reducing the UK’s large structural fiscal deficit when the economy is stronger and taking into account risks to sovereign borrowing costs. Fiscal easing measures in such a scenario should focus on temporary tax cuts and greater infrastructure spending, as these may be more credibly temporary than increases in current spending.”

The above quote is from the concluding statement of the International Monetary Fund’s mission to the UK for the so-called Article IV Consultation, released on 22 May 2012. Read more

Capitalism in crisis

Three years ago, when the worst financial and economic crisis since the 1930s gripped the global economy, the Financial Times published a series on “the future of capitalism”. Now, after a feeble recovery in the high-income countries, it has run a series on “capitalism in crisis”. Things seem to be worse. How is this to be explained?

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Iceland was the first country devastated by the financial crisis. Lehman Brothers failed on September 15 2008. By October 9, its three big banks – Glitnir, Landesbanki and Kaupthing – had collapsed. The UK government seized Landesbanki UK under anti-terror laws, while Gordon Brown, the prime minister, threatened to seize Icelandic assets in the UK. On October 24, Iceland agreed a deal with the International Monetary Fund.

On October 27 2011, I attended a conference jointly organised by the IMF and the government of Iceland to celebrate Iceland’s graduation from the programme and evaluate the outcome of the rescue. I also moderated the final panel.

The programme remains controversial. Jón Daníelsson of the London School of Economics presented a critique during the conference. Others presented critiques from outside.

What happened to Iceland is clear: its banks ran amuck. Read more

EU flagOne of the most interesting set of questions to arise out of the Greek crisis in the eurozone is whether – and, if so, what – institutional changes are needed to make it easier to manage disarray of this kind.

Some would argue that there is really no problem. When countries within the eurozone get into difficulty, they are supposed to look after themselves. The European Central Bank should continue to look at the performance of the economy as a whole. Meanwhile, given the “no bail-out” provisions of the treaty, each country must be on its own. If a country cannot raise the money it needs to finance its government, it has no choice but to raise taxes, cut spending and, in extremis, restructure its debt. The latter is likely to mean a deep recession, not least because the private sector is likely to be badly affected by a sovereign default. This would be particularly true for the financial sector. Read more