18 June 2015

Wolf! Wolf! Wolf, and Moral Hazard

Having been wrong about the Grexit date of 9th May 2015, and having written again about why it is actually in the best interests of Greece based on other countries' experiences, it is time to call "Wolf!" again. Boring, I know, but "Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!".

Or, "Grexit! Grexit! Grexit, and Moral Hazard!"

There, I've said it. Now why do I keep saying it?

Syriza was elected, and they are a political party, and they will implement to the extent that they can, their agenda. From the Syrisa perspective, the ongoing Greece-Troika-EU dance that has become oh so tedious has two purposed; ensure that the Germans will reject or refuse to put any viable plan on the table, and ensure that EU's  (and Toika's) willingness to inflict massive and almost perpetual pain on the Greek people finally reduces the percentage of Greeks who say they want to stay in the Euro.

From the Troika perspective, it is clear that, like good loan-shark enforcers, the Troika will be happy to see every last penny extracted, every last asset liquidated, before in the end suggesting that there is one way-out left; suicide. According to the New York Times reported on 25 May 2015, "As for the hospitals, even though they are taking in twice as many patients now, their budgets have been cut to the bone. In the first four months of this year, health officials say that the 140 or so public hospitals in Greece received just €43 million from the state — down from €650 million during the same period last year."

The suicide that the Troika would like to see is the suicide of Syriza, those nasty, far-left socialist / communists who also happen to be Greek nationalists. So we are now in a battle of wills between the "End of History" with it's ultimate victory of liberal capitalist democracy and a miserable rearguard of that failed socialist philosophy that has no future.

The problem with this narrative, like all simplistic narratives, is that the situation is of course far more complex, and is one that strikes at the heart of the presumptive winner in the game of history. Capitalism is failing. Liberal democracy is failing. Sure, it remains the now-dominant political-economic narrative, and will remain so probably though the coming crisis (no, not the Greek one, the real one).

Moral Hazard

Greece is a reflection of the Moral Hazard that has engulfed the capitalist system, with Too Big To Fail (TBTF) banks, but Not Big Enough To Save countries. When the final choice must be make, the Troika and virtually all Central Banks will  impoverish and force a country to fail, rather than allow the poor lending decisions of the banks and IMF to reap the reward of poor investing decisions.

Moral Hazard is the concept that if an entity (or an individual for that matter) knows that they will be able to "get away with it", be it murder, theft, or simply poor lending and investment decisions, then there are not impediments to that unacceptable behaviour. In central banking and regulatory context it means the importance of demonstrating that no business is TBTF, because to admit that the business will not be allowed to fail will simply encourage "Moral Hazard" or behaviours that are ultimately counterproductive to the business (or the counter-party) to the point of damaging the business.

In the case of Greece, one side of the Moral Hazard has been the implicit expectation that no matter what happens, the money "loaned" to Greece will be repaid. The other side of Moral Hazard is that Greece sought and took loans when it knew that it was taking out loans that were well beyond the ability of the Greek economy to repay.

Until the IMF, ECB, national Central Banks and national governments print money, buy bonds, and run their countries at significant budget deficits, there will be Moral Hazard. With Greece, all can see the future, they just aren't willing to look.

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