giovedì 24 febbraio 2011

Martin Wolf sul debito dell'Irlanda


Bello l'editoriale di Martin Wolf sul FT
di ieri dedicato al debito dell'Irlanda. L'Irlanda sta soffrendo una dura crisi economica innescata dalla crisi finanziaria e dalle conseguenze delle garanzie sul debito delle proprie banche assunte dal governo: secondo il Fondo Monetario Internalzionale negl ultimi tre anni il GDP è sceso dell'11%, il GNP del 16% e la domanda interna del 22%. Ancora peggio è andata per l'occupazione schizzata dal 4.6% del 2007 aò 13.3% del 2010. Infine il debito pubblico: nel 2007 era pari ad appena il 25% del GDP, oggi sfiora il 100%. Scrive Wolf (il grassetto l'ho aggiunto io):

What caused this calamity? As Philip Lane of Trinity College notes: “There was a genuine Irish economic miracle, with very rapid output, employment and productivity growth during the 1994-2000 period.” Without entry into the eurozone, this might have petered out. But the fall in interest rates increased the risk that a credit-fuelled property bubble would emerge. So, indeed, it did.
Prof Lane observes: “The flavour of this boom was very different to the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years. In particular, it was dominated by a surge in construction activity.” Moreover, this “expansion in property investment was fuelled by rapid credit expansion”, not just to the household sector, but also to a “small group of property developers”.
The ratio of private credit to GDP jumped from around 100 per cent in 2000 to 230 per cent in 2008. Foreign lenders played a huge role in funding this boom: the net foreign liabilities of domestic banks went from 20 per cent of GDP in 2003 to over 70 per cent in early 2008.
The global financial crisis caused an immediate cessation in the capital inflows. In panic-stricken response, the Irish government guaranteed bank debt in September 2008. As the fiscal costs mounted, driven by the slump and the need to rescue the banks, what began as a financial crisis ended up as a crisis in public debt. It is not the first time an out-of-control financial sector has ruined the state. It will not be the last.
How has the crisis been handled? A crucial point is that this is not one, but three, crises: an economic collapse; a financial implosion; and a fiscal disaster.

Wolf giustamente osserva come la crisi sia di una dimensione così estesa da non poter essere superata dal governo irlandese senza dover ricorrere a un default del debito sovrano: l'aiuto della BCE e degli altri paesi dell'eurozona è dunque indispensabile. Le conclusioni sono molto amare, anche perchè i partner europei sembrano indifferenti e più interessati a mostrarsi intransigenti per miopi ragioni nazionalistico-elettorali (ancora una volta sono il responsabile del grassetto):
Ireland is doomed to fiscal stringency for decades, given its poor growth prospects, at least in comparison with its Tiger years.
Apart from the Armageddon of a sovereign default, two partial escapes exist. The more trivial would be a reduction in the rate of interest on Ireland’s borrowing: a 1 per cent reduction in the rate of interest would save the state 0.4 per cent of GDP a year. That would be a small help, at least. A more valuable possibility would be a writedown of existing subordinated and senior bank debt, which currently amounts to €21.4bn (14 per cent of GDP).
The ECB and the other members of the European Union have vetoed this idea, fearful of contagion. Indeed, the assistance package was partly to prevent just such an outcome. Yet the idea that taxpayers should bail out senior creditors of massively insolvent banks at such risk to the solvency of their state is both unfair and unreasonable. If the rest of the EU is determined to protect senior creditors, it should surely share in the cost of doing so. Why should the taxpayers of the borrowing country pay all? The new Irish government should make this point firmly.
Finally, what are the lessons of this calamity? One is old: an out-of-control financial sector creates self-fulfilling euphoria and then panic, as Hyman Minsky warned. Yet this particular episode has at least two specific lessons for the eurozone, as well. First, entry can turn out to be a massive economic shock. Second, the view, popular in Germany, that tighter fiscal policy would solve all problems, is clearly wrong. Before the crisis, Ireland’s ratio of public debt to GDP was 40 percentage points less than Germany’s. True, Irish fiscal policy could have been tighter. But that would have made next to no difference to the outcome, unless it had been able to generate a large surplus in net assets. Indeed, with such a policy, long-term interest rates might have been lower and the asset boom even bigger.
Ireland’s fiscal calamity is not a cause of its crisis but a consequence. The big failure was the behaviour of private lenders and borrowers. That is what must be tackled. Start now.

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