What happens to the eurozone after the second Greek bailout?
February 24th, 2012
10:30 AM ET

What happens to the eurozone after the second Greek bailout?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

The great Troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund has engineered a second bailout of Greece, once again saving Western Civilization as we know it. But as anyone following this long-running melo-drachma may attest, it ain’t over ‘til Chancellor Merkel says so. This week’s Wikistrat drill looks at possible future pathways for the eurozone.

Greece: Should I pay or should I go now?

The second bailout imagines Greece reducing its debt burden down to about 120 percent of its GDP from its current position north of 150 percent. Many observers will tell you that’s a nice dream, but it won’t happen. Instead, tax collection will continue to be weak, public sector unions will fight salary reductions tooth and nail, and the country’s best and brightest will leave - a trend we already spot.

The Greek government’s best path is to revalue its currency, but it can’t do that so long as it’s tethered to the euro, so it’d be worth the short-term pain to a) exit the euro, b) re-establish the drachma, and c) inflate away the debt as quickly as possible. The larger eurozone, where Greece’s economy constitutes a mere 1/50th of the whole, won’t go the cheap money route. So, as long as Greece stays in, it’s in trouble. Once out, it could attract European investments - and tourists - because it’ll suddenly be so inexpensive.

The flip side says the divorce will be inconceivably complex and long, with capital fleeing Greece in a mad rush in the meantime, so don’t even think about going there! Plus, there’s really no precedent for exiting the eurozone and remaining in the European Union – something a strong majority of Greeks want. Yes, it’ll take a generation to fight its way back to respectability, but if Greece bailed now, there’d be no assurances it could ever regain entry. (On a related note, forget about the East European EU newbies joining the eurozone any time soon.) So if Greece is going to be the poster child for austerity, one way or the other, why not stick it out - inside?

The bailout + austerity plan = killing the chicken to scare the monkey

You know the logic: Beat the weaker party to scare the stronger one into proper respect. This isn’t about Greece, which is just the current wobbly domino. This is about the largest of the so-called PIIGS - Italy. The other little piggies (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain) can go wee-wee-wee all the way home, but Italy has got to go to enough markets to restructure its similarly out-of-control debt to keep the eurozone concept viable - plain and simple. By drawing a firm line with Greece, tough-love Germany tells Italy what must be done.

And it could very well work, because the Troika is now armed with a $1.5 trillion firewall of funds to stare down the remaining PIIGS - if Italy takes the hint and pursue the same salary-slashing path that’ll soon be forced upon the Greeks.

The eurozone will all float on alright

No, the underlying structural issues still haven’t been addressed (i.e., common currency without fiscal union), but the system musters just enough will - time and again - to warrant approving flows of capital from America and Asia, two trade partners smart enough to realize they’ll suffer plenty if the eurozone death spirals.

Greece isn’t just a whipping boy; it’s a mighty experiment that will inform the whole. So all kinds of plans will be tried out over the long haul, improving the situation here and there. Greece has already made tremendous efforts and achieved impressive results. Wait two or three more years and everything will look far more positive. It has already begun, or why is the euro worth $1.33 amidst Europe's most severe crisis?

Germany’s Nein! Nein! Nein! plan

Every proposed solution comes up against German opposition. Germany opposes eurozone-wide bonds (aka, Eurobonds). It opposes any country’s temporary exiting of the eurozone to get its finances in order. It opposes inflating the problem away. It opposes the two-tier solution that would give the PIIGS a pen of their own. Whatever is suggested, Germany opposes. What Germans want is the freedom to act in their interest (i.e., their huge trade surplus says they’re winning), but what they fear is responsibility beyond their borders. They’re the epitome of passive-aggressive leadership.

But who can blame them? Europeans all fear being under German rule - again! And Germany picks up on that vibe. Just track the periodic peaks of this long-running crisis and you can tell when the Europeans are getting close to a serious reform, because that’s when the op-eds start mentioning the 1930s, fascism, and He Who Shall Not Be Named. So every time it’s Germany’s time to step up and take control as the eurozone's largest economy, the H-bombs start flying and the Germans say nothing!

Then again, maybe Germany and it’s “iron lady” Angela Merkel, are simply biding their time for the perfect storm to arise, when larger designs are made possible...

What would Hamilton do?

Okay, it’s mostly the Financial Times that hawks this lead, but it’s a question worth asking. The European Union isn’t the first great stab at multi-nation building. That was these United States, which got their common currency in 1862 - thank you very much. Then again, that took the Civil War, so the question really is, if this is the greatest crisis in the European construction scheme, where is the Alexander Hamilton who sells the continent on the wisdom of the center (Germany, France, the Nordics) assuming the debts of the periphery (PIIGS)? Hamilton pulled this off with the 13 colonies-cum-states’ Revolutionary War debts: by creating the federal entity that absorbed all obligations, a strong center of gravity emerged in the fledgling American system – fiscal union strengthening political union.

So, if not Angela the Lawgiver, then who? And if not now, then when?

But think of what Germany might want in return for that effort, and then ask yourself how much pain must the rest of Europe feel before it’ll accede to, say, France giving up its permanent United Nations Security Council seat for an EU one.

C'est incroyable!

Just give it enough time and we’ll see, because such backroom deals are how history is often forged. Hamilton struck his with archrival Thomas Jefferson, the price being moving the U.S. capital from New York to what became Washington D.C.

We know, that one still seems incredible to us too.

The U.S. wildcard

If the eurozone really cracks up, meaning the euro crashes and burns, many U.S. banks will immediately get sucked into this maelstrom. So the question arises: Would Washington step in with some rescue package?

Not in this election cycle. Washington would bail U.S. banks alone. On this score, muddling-through Europe’s best hope is that America’s nascent energy revolution keeps drilling along, ultimately lifting all the world’s boats on a sea of cheap natural gas.

That’s Wikistrat's “wisdom of the crowd” for this week.

Now tell us which path you find most plausible, or what other scenarios you can envision in the comments section below. And be sure to check out more at Wikistrat.com, a cutting-edge global consultancy.

Topics: Economy • Europe

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. iran is evil along with syria

    Retired businessman Christopher Tappin had said he was leaving the UK feeling he had fewer rights than a terrorist.

    Mr Tappin, 65, from London, is being flown from Heathrow Airport to El Paso, Texas, escorted by US marshals.

    British judges say the extradition is lawful and the European Court of Human Rights has refused to intervene.

    Mr Tappin, of Orpington, south-east London, has fought against extradition through the British courts after being charged in the US with conspiring to export batteries which could be used in Hawk air defence missiles.

    He faces a trial in El Paso and a possible 35-year jail sentence – but says that he is the victim of entrapment.

    Mr Tappin's lawyer, Karen Todner, said it was "very likely" her client would now enter into a plea agreement to reduce a sentence.

    Lawyer Karen Todner: "He will be wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs"
    "If Mr Tappin does not enter into a plea agreement and is found guilty he will have to serve the whole sentence in America, which may actually effectively be the rest of his life, rather than serving a sentence in the UK, therefore I think it's very very likely that he will enter into a plea agreement," she said.

    Last week the European Court of Human Rights refused to intervene in his case. Mr Tappin, a former president of the Kent Golf Society, was ordered to present himself to Heathrow Airport to be taken to the US for trial.

    He was seen departing from his house around 08:00 GMT and arrived at Heathrow police station accompanied by his wife Elaine.

    Shortly after 10.30am, Mr Tappin's lawyer said British extradition officers had taken Mr Tappin to a plane where he was being handed over to US marshals. The flight was due to land in Texas around 16:00 local time (23:00 GMT).

    "He will be arriving in El Paso this afternoon. He will be appearing in court on Monday morning, so he will be in custody over the weekend." The earliest he could be granted bail would be Thursday or Friday, Ms Todner said.

    She urged Home Secretary Theresa May to help Mr Tappin intervene with the US authorities to ensure they did not object to bail being granted.

    Ms Todner later wrote on Twitter: "Mr Tappin has left for America. Was v distressing when he said goodbye. The extradition treaty is inhumane."

    Arriving at the airport, Mr Tappin told reporters it was "a shame, a disgrace" that he was being extradited.

    Continue reading the main story

    February 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Britain's history professor Timothy Garton Ash had an analogy for the Greek bailout crisis. Angela Merkel is seen driving the vehicle (Greece). Next to her in the passenger seat Sarkozy gives her the direction: "Non, non, ma chérie, tout droit, tout droit". (no, no, my dear, straight ahead, straight ahead).

    February 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Nowadays many Greeks travel to the neighbouring Bulgaria to do their shopping. Goods are a lot cheaper and so is the Bulgarian Lew against the Euro.

      February 25, 2012 at 5:16 am | Reply
  3. almahdi is lusefer

    iran must be attacked, iran is not a muslim country, all the muslims 1 billion are sunni and the shiia are only 150 milions iran 65 millions are not all muslims , they have 10 million sunni and 5 million kurds, and 3 million christeans and jews etc...iran is evil and we dont consider them muslims. teh shiia cult is a devil worship called almahdi he the son of lusefer the devil

    February 24, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Time will tell, whether Angela Merket could be the female equivalent of the American ALEXANDER HAMILTON.

    February 25, 2012 at 5:20 am | Reply
  5. COMC

    Greece is better off out of the Euro and and defaulting on its debt asap. It should exit the euro immediately, reinstall the drachma and officially default on its debts to avoid a worse situation further down the road as the imposed austerity measures bite ever deeper. They would clearly be better off doing so and if a country as small as Greece needs to be so desperately "rescued" time and time again for the benefit of other countries, then the rest of Europe is clearly in a very unstable situation.

    February 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  6. joe shmo

    greece is my life and i will live as a Greek and die as a Greek !!!!!

    February 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  7. Nicolaos


    March 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply

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