Monday, 13 February 2012

When you don't want to be this right...

(image via
Last year, Jacopo Ponticelli and I wrote a paper looking at the link between austerity measures and unrest. We found a close one. The dramatic images from yesterday - with wide-spread rioting in Athens, building burning, etc. could not bear out our thesis with more force. And there is no question that this was about austerity, either ... normally a tough nut to crack in this context is the question if the link is really causal. Of course, academics always enjoy being able to say "I told you so", but this time, I would have preferred it if the Greeks had proven us wrong.

While there is a lot of understandable frustration with Greece's unwillingness or inability to implement reforms, the riots illustrate that austerity is reaching its limit. How many more budget bills can the government and the troika push through parliament? And what is the implication for the rest of Europe? For the moment, bond markets are a bit calmer, and equity markets are in party mood. The pictures from Greece tell us that the cheer of markets thanks to more austerity is bought in an unsustainable fashion. It's not the most likely scenario, but we may very well see a rapid deterioration in the growth outlook in Spain and Portugal, thanks to all the cuts and tax hikes being implemented now. If this produces yet more deficits and another round of austerity, the Greek scenario is beginning to look much more likely; somewhere along the way, the bond market will panic, and the mother of all bailouts could be on the agenda by mid-summer. Let's hope I am wrong. Even Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose pleasure in forcing austerity on deadbeat ClubMed countries has a been a constant at EU summits, seemed to hint last week that he is starting to change his mind

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