Posts Tagged ‘eurozone’

Sending Scientists To Prison Helps Explain Why The Italian Economy Is In Trouble

October 23rd, 2012 Comments off

First there was Greece, then Ireland and Portugal, and now Spain. The last of the PIIGS nations afflicted with massive sovereign debt is Italy. Massive public debts and annual deficits, its bonds periodically hovering at the seven percent dangerous  yield level on long term sovereign debt, the Italian economy is a basket case. As with the other  PIIGS countries, it is kept fiscally alive only due to massive Eurozone intervention, including the European Central Bank (ECB) and the disenfranchised German taxpayer. But with Rome, there is one other big reason for Italy’s economic woes. It’s judicial system is a joke.

An Italian court has just ruled that six geological scientists ( and an ex-official of the government) are legally culpable for failing to predict the deadly  2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, and sentenced each of them to serve six years in prison for manslaughter. Scientists going to jail for failing to predict an earthquake? What about astrologers and soothsayers? No, the Italian system is OK with magicians and wizards being unable to predict seismic phenomena, but if you happen to be a geologically trained scientist who fails to ascertain with exact precision future earthquakes, then you are going straight to jail. By comparison, Russia’s Putin sending Pussy Riot to a penal colony comes across as less ridiculous than this disgraceful display of warped humor by the Italian justice system.

The imprisonment of scientists harkens back to a time when magicians would be burned alive for failing to stop the Black Death during Europe’s Dark Ages. This issue, however, goes beyond ethics and scientific freedom, including the freedom to make mistakes in analyzing natural phenomena that unfolds independently of man’s will. Science and technology is about all that is left in a European economy which, like America’s has undergone thorough deindustrialization. In a Europe and America where bankers and financial speculators can destroy the global economy without any risk of criminal sanction ( though with the assurance of a taxpayer bailout) but where those working in scientific research can be imprisoned for failing to be infallible, the inexplicable decision by an Italian court will not encourage talented Italians to enter the scientific field.

How ironic it is that financial oligarchs and their enablers in public office, such as central bankers, can escape accountability for their role in creating the greatest economic and financial catastrophe since the Great Depression of the 1930s ( though many experts have demonstrated that the crisis now afflicting the global economy was eminently predictable) while seismologists and scientific researchers are sent to prison for lacking divine prescience. The Italian court’s judgment is supposedly based on the scientists failing to adequately assess the risk factors in engaging in the inexact science of earthquake forecasting. If the same court had applied the identical  verdict and sentence towards economists and financial advisors with similar faults in weighing risk factors in formulating their forecasts, perhaps it would not come across as so bizarre. However, by placing the blame for a natural disaster’s tragic outcome on scientists, Italy’s courts have offered an unexpected but very eloquent explanation for why the third largest economy in the Eurozone has become so dysfunctional. Quite simply, the power structure in Italy has gone completely mad.







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Is the Euro Doomed? Greece is but a Harbinger of Much Worse to Come

May 6th, 2010 Comments off

With the markets giving the proverbial “thumbs down” to the deficit-financed Eurozone/IMF bailout of insolvent Greece, the value of the once might euro in relation to a basket of key currencies is sinking at warp speed. It is quite clear that the Eurozone bailout is a panicked-induced  attempt to save the euro from its own contradictions. However, it is a futile attempt that is doomed to failure, in my view.

A monetary union  involving 16 vastly different economies with asymmetrical fiscal policies is nonsensical in the extreme. A common currency may have made sense for a limited number of major European economies, however the current matrix is unsustainable, despite the willingness of European politicians to bankrupt their citizens in a fool’s errand attempt to save what is doomed.

Greece is now convulsed in social unrest, an entirely predictable outcome that is bound to get more serious as the full severity of the IMF and Eurozone austerity measures take full affect on the Greek workers and taxpayers. Supposedly this is all being done to prevent a contagion from infecting other European economies with high deficit to GDP ratios. The painful reality is that the pandemic is already beyond the borders of Greece. It will ultimately savage every nation-state existing in a neo-Keynesian fantasy of  infinitely-expanding sovereign debt. This includes not only the Eurozone, but also the UK, Japan and ultimately the United States.

Greece is a window into the next phase of the global economic crisis. The euro may very well be an early casualty of what is unfolding into the deepest systemic crisis of modern capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The Dying “Save” the Dead: The Fallacy of the Eurozone Bailout of Greece

May 3rd, 2010 Comments off

First it was the supposed citadel of free market capitalism, the United States, insisting that its beleaguered taxpayers must bailout the private sector Wall Street firms and banks, despite the nation’s public finances being  deeply in the red. Now, in macabre replication, all the nations that comprise the European monetary union and employ the euro as their common currency must bailout Greece, now threatened with national insolvency . The concept of moral hazard is therefore confined to the trash heap of history, as it was already disposed of in the U.S.

When the European monetary union was instituted, member states had to guarantee that their annual fiscal deficits would not exceed 3% of GDP. There is also a no-bailout clause in the Eurozone agreement, the implication being that nations utilizing the euro would establish the gold standard for fiscal prudence. Well, we have all witnessed what happened to that supposed gold standard. Successive Greek governments lied about the country’s fiscal problems, and with the help of outside Wall Street “consulting,” constructed stratagems to make it appear that the Eurozone deficit stipulations were being adhered to, when in fact Athens was drowning in a sea of fiscal debt. Even today, it is not known for sure how bad the annual Greek government deficit is, but most recent estimates put it at 14% of GDP, a figure so far in excess of the 3% Eurozone stipulation that it  boggles the mind that European taxpayers are being told by their politicians and the IMF that they should trust the politicos in Athens when they proclaim that their new austerity measures will magically shrink the Greek deficit to the required 3% in only a few years-though the estimate of when that  event will occur keeps being pushed back. In addition, most financial observers concur that the savage austerity plans hatched in Athens and Brussels with the IMF and Eurozone, will condemn the Greek economy to a prolonged and severe recession, making a mockery of claims that future economic growth will eventually improve the Greek fiscal imbalance.

In reality, Greece is insolvent, a point that Professor Nouriel Roubini has recently elaborated on, with a warning that a bailout that does not recognize that the nation is bankrupt will waste an enormous amount of public money. Even more surreal, the very nations being asked to bailout Greece are themselves in deficit, in some cases having a national debt and yearly deficit to GDP ratio as bad as that which brought down Greece’s public finances. Several of the countries that will be contributing public money to prop up Greece are on everyone’s hit list of the next Eurozone nations to be the target of the  unfolding sovereign debt crisis and bond vigilantes. These include Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy. We may soon witness the absurdity of nations that are experiencing their own debt crisis but must borrow additional money to bailout Greece, only to soon be in the same predicament as Athens, joining Greece in begging the IMF and their fellow Europeans to grant them a bailout.

Throughout the unfolding Greek debt crisis, politicians in Europe have sought  to pretend that the problem was only one of jittery markets, and things would return to normal. Before pleading for a financial lifeline of $146 billion from the IMF and Eurozone, Greek Prime Minister Papandreou gave numerous assurances that his country would not need a bailout. Now we are being told that countries that are themselves suffering various levels of debt problems should add the massive costs of a Greek bailout to their sovereign credit cards, and somehow this will all work out.

I just don’t see the logic of asking a terminally ill patient to provide a blood transfusion to a corpse.

Greek Debt and Fiscal Crisis Gets Steadily Worse Amid a Sea of Deception

April 22nd, 2010 Comments off

If you thought the revised Greek government fiscal deficit projection for 2009 was disastrous at 12.3% of GDP, fasten your seat belt and hold onto your hat. As awful as that  figure was when Prime Minster George Papandreou revealed that the previous government in Athens had deliberately lied about the deficit so that Greece would be admitted into the Eurozone, in retrospect the powers that be in Brussels, joined by the IMF, wish to God that 12.3% was the number. Now, we learn, the actual deficit figures are even worse, though nobody can be certain at this point how bad they really are.

Eurostat, the statistical department of the EU, has released its own evaluation of Greece’s fiscal reality, and has concluded that, at a minimum, the actual deficit to GDP accrued by Athens in 2009 was 13.6% and might even be as high as 14.1%. Due to deliberate bookkeeping chicanery by previous Greek governments, apparently facilitated at least in some measure by the unique financial engineering of Goldman Sachs, the true state of Greek fiscal reality is hidden by a thick layer of artfully contrived opacity.

In the light of this latest revelation, courtesy of Eurostat, yields on Greek government bonds continue their upward climb. For example, yields on ten year Greek bonds now exceed 9%, nearly six hundred basis points higher than the equivalent bonds being offered by Germany. Clearly, the sovereign debt market is far from reassured by the latest version of the ever-changing Greek bailout package, which in its latest manifestation was cobbled together by the Euzozone countries and the IMF.

In response to the ever-worsening truth now emerging about how dire the Greek debt crisis really is, the ratings agencies are again weighing in with a downgrade of Greek sovereign debt. Moody’s has lowered its rating on Greece by  another notch, and likely the other ratings agencies will soon weigh in. This will inevitably further expand the spread in bond yields, and only add to the complication of even a short-term bailout.

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in September of 2008, there was an immediate freeze in the global credit market, reflecting acute distrust by counterparties spooked by misleading financial representations by major investment firms, especially with regard to mortgage backed securities. The latest revelations concerning the Greek fiscal crisis point to a similar phenomenon that is increasingly likely. As the sovereign debt crisis currently afflicting Greece not only worsens but spreads to other countries with large deficit to GDP correlations, the risk of a Lehman Brothers type scenario with respect to the sovereign debt market becomes increasingly probable, with one important difference.

When Lehman Bothers collapsed and credit markets froze, sovereigns borrowed massively and bailed out their financial systems. However, if this time sovereigns  are the actors frozen out of the credit market, who bails them out? Answer than one, Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner.

Eurozone Sovereign Debt Crisis a Growing Global Danger

February 14th, 2010 Comments off

In my book, “Global Economic Forecast 2010-2015: Recession Into Depression,” I project that a growing sovereign fiscal crisis will transform the current Great Recession into a synchronized global depression. The events currently transpiring in the Eurozone are early indicators that my forecast is on track.
At the recent summit of European Union leaders in Brussels, which included the head of the European Central Bank, the PR spin doctors released what can best be described as ambiguity in the form of a communiqué, offering unspecified assurances that the Eurozone’s major actors will not permit Greece to succumb to its current sovereign debt crisis. The hope was that the markets would buy this assurance, thus preventing a further slide in the euro.

Not only are the markets, at least terms of the euro’s relative value, not being reassured by the happy talk that emanated out of Brussels; upon his return to Athens, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou  was harshly critical at the lukewarm words of EU reassurance. He said, “in the battle against the impressions and the psychology of the market, it was at the very least timid, ” in referring to the EU communiqué.

The bottom line is that without a massive bailout by the big guns in the Eurozone, in particular Germany and France, Greece faces fiscal collapse, which in turn will prove destructive to the whole Eurozone. However, if indeed Greece is bailed out, a host of other insolvent EU members using the euro will be lining up for their bailouts. Even ignoring the feelings of the German and French taxpayers (which is not politically tenable) there simply is not fiscal capacity within the Eurozone to backstop the other potential sovereign basket cases.

I foresee no possible scenario that allows for a soft landing from this escalating sovereign fiscal and debt crisis.

Structural Mega-Deficits Threaten To Stifle The U.S. Economy

January 17th, 2010 Comments off

In  the last 100 years, encountering a year in which the U.S. federal government has achieved a balanced  budget has been as rare as the chance that Vladimir and Estragon will actually meet Godot. As with most Western economies as well as Japan, fiscal deficits by sovereign governments have become so normative that a term has long been in vogue to describe this phenomenon, the co-called “structural deficit.” But all that was prior to the onset  of the global financial and economic crisis, which erupted in 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. We are all now in new territory, never before encountered  by sovereign governments on such a prolific scale. Welcome to the era of the structural mega-deficit.

In compiling data for my new book, “Global Economic Forecast 2010-2015: Recession Into Depression” (, I recognized that the size of current and projected fiscal deficits for the United States and other advanced and major economies was so much greater than typical structural deficits, a new terminology was required. The term I have adopted  in my report, “structural mega-deficit,” implies a whole new and unprecedented reality for public financing. In essence, a deficit which approaches or exceeds 10% of a national economy’s GDP, and has an aspect of permanence similar to previously tolerated structural deficits, has entered the fiscally turbulent terrain of structural mega-deficits.

As with private consumers, sovereign economic policymakers have become addicted to debt, nowhere more so than in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. For example, when the Eurozone was established with a single currency, participants were expected to show “prudent” fiscal management of the public finances, by ensuring that their national deficits did not exceed 3% of national GDP. Heaven forbid a balanced budget had even been suggested as an ideal target. Now, however, even the Eurozone’s supposedly responsible 3% cap on annual deficit to GDP ratios is coming apart at the seams, witnessed most recently by the  fiscal crisis in Greece, where the current  budget deficit is expected to reach 12.7% of that nation’s GDP.

It is the United States, however, where the emergence of the structural mega-deficit reaps the most tangible dangers for the global economy. In the past, key economic policymakers throughout the world maintained that a structural deficit of around 3% of GDP could be easily sustained  as long as the national economy produced a modest level of growth. However, there exists no mathematical models that demonstrate how any nation’s economy, including that of the U.S., can sustain structural mega-deficits. With the official U.S. deficit for  the 2009 fiscal year having reached 10% of GDP and the 2010 federal budget likely to produce a deficit in the range of $1.5 trillion, America’s public finances are clearly in a debt trap that is unsustainable by any logical measure. The Congressional Budget Office projects a cumulative deficit of $9 trillion over the next decade; based on the CBO’s track record, the actual deficit is likely to be much worse.

One of the strange paradoxes for the U.S. economy is that in 2009, even with a tripling of the national deficit, the annual payment by the federal government for interest on the national debt was actually lower than the prior year. This was due to the unique and anomalous conjunction of much of America’s national debt being financed by short-term Treasuries with historically low interest rates established by the Federal Reserve. However, with growing doubts on the part of foreign lenders as to the long-term credit worthiness of the United States, it is inevitable that the days when much of America’s growing debt load could be financed at almost zero interest rates will soon end. With  the public debt of the United States  based on an average turnover for refinancing  of four years, the shortest timeframe of any large indebted economy, a spike in bond yields will add potentially hundreds of billions of dollars to the annual U.S. deficit. A time may not be far off when current taxes and other federal government revenue will cover less than half of the annual expenditures of the federal government. All this will be occurring as outlays for Social Security and Medicare begin to exceed revenues, adding further to the structural mega-deficit, and at a rate that will become increasingly voracious.

The ultimate tragedy about the present and future danger of structural mega-deficits in the United States and other major economies is that this is an impending train wreck that can be viewed  from a great distance before its catastrophic impact. Yet, in spite of the clear and obvious unsustainability of structural mega-deficits, with very few exceptions the political leadership in the United States, in both the Democratic and Republican parties, is conspicuously silent.


Welcome To The Global Economic Crisis, Europe

January 20th, 2009 Comments off

When the European Commission released its forecast for 2009 and 2010 on economic “growth” in the eurozone, the dismal projections were no surprise. According to the Commission, eurozone economies collectively will contract by 1.9 % in 2009 and grow by an anemic 0.4 % in 2010. Even these seemingly pathetic figures are almost certainly highly optimistic. A senior economist at Bank of America, Gilles Moec, for example, projects that the 16 nations that use the euro currency will see their economies shrink by 2.6 %. during 2009. As for 2010, I think the European Commission was inhaling some potent weed to see any growth potential for 2010.

The negative growth in the eurozone affirms that that this pivotal region in the global economy is deep in recession, with already high rates of unemployment about to surge to a level that will threaten the social and political cohesion of western and central Europe. Quite clearly, the eurozone, along with the rest of the planet, will not be immune from the man-made catastrophe that is the Global Economic Crisis.

What about the rest of Europe? Here the news is at least as bad, and in many instances worse than the eurozone. The economy of the UK is imploding, its banks technically insolvent, according to a recent and authoritative report. Russia is being shattered economically by the collapse in commodity prices, especially petroleum, its primary generator of hard currency. The Ukraine and Baltic nations are possibly in even deeper trouble, while even little Iceland has not been spared, as it risks being the first victim of the Global Economic Crisis to fall into national bankruptcy.

The global economic disaster ripping apart the world began in the United States, where it continues to accelerate in its destructive impact. However, now that Europe is being ripped apart by the global financial and economic tsunami, we are now entering what economists refer to as a negative feedback loop. As the U.S. and Europe feed upon each other’s economic decline, the tentacles of this destructive recessionary octopus will increasingly strangle the other major economic engines on the planet, namely China, Japan and Southeast Asia. The sobering conclusion is that the worst is yet to come, but almost certainly will.