It’s Not About Ireland Anymore

On the Project Syndicate website, Peter Boone and I argue, with regard to the European situation in this coming week:

The Germans, responding to the understandable public backlash against taxpayer-financed bailouts for banks and indebted countries, are sensibly calling for mechanisms to permit “wider burden sharing” – meaning losses for creditors. Yet their new proposals, which bizarrely imply that defaults can happen only after mid-2013, defy the basic economics of debt defaults.

Given the vulnerability of so many eurozone countries, it appears that Merkel does not understand the immediate implications of her plan. The Germans and other Europeans insist that they will provide new official financing to insolvent countries, thus keeping current bondholders whole, while simultaneously creating a new regime after 2013 under which all this debt could be easily restructured. But, as European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet likes to point out, market participants are good at thinking backwards: if they can see where a Ponzi-type scheme ends, everything unravels.

Like it or not, it’s time for the Europeans to decide: Who gets unlimited liquidity support because they are essentially solvent, and who has to restructure their debt – with bridge financing and help from the outside?

This will be painful and intense.  The case for debt restructuring in Ireland and Greece is clear.  What about Portugal and, even more controversial, Spain – and other eurozone sovereign borrowers? 

For our complete assessment, please see the Project Syndicate column.  Here is the full link:

Originally published at The Baseline Scenario and reproduced here with the author’s permission.