Surely we live in interesting times, especially if you are residing in euroland. George Soros, famous investor opined the following in an article appearing in the Financial Times:
"...the euro was meant to be a monetary union but not a political one. Participating states established a common central bank but refused to surrender the right to tax their citizens to a common authority. This principle was enshrined in the Maastricht treaty and has since been rigorously interpreted by the German constitutional court. The euro was a unique and unusual construction whose viability is now being tested.
The construction is patently flawed. A fully fledged currency requires both a central bank and a Treasury. The Treasury need not be used to tax citizens on an everyday basis but it needs to be available in times of crisis. When the financial system is in danger of collapsing, the central bank can provide liquidity, but only a Treasury can deal with problems of solvency. This is a well-known fact that should have been clear to everyone involved in the creation of the euro.
The European Union was brought into existence by putting the cart before the horse: setting limited but politically attainable targets and timetables, knowing full well that they would not be sufficient and require further steps in due course. But for various reasons the process gradually ground to a halt. The EU is now largely frozen in its present shape.
The same applies to the euro. The crash of 2008 revealed the flaw in its construction when members had to rescue their banking systems independently. The Greek debt crisis brought matters to a climax. If member countries cannot take the next steps forward, the euro may fall apart.
The European authorities accepted a plan that would reduce the deficit gradually with a first instalment of 4 per cent, but markets were not reassured. The risk premium on Greek government bonds continues to hover around 3 per cent, depriving Greece of much of the benefit of euro membership. If this continues, there is a real danger that Greece may not be able to extricate itself from its predicament whatever it does. Further budget cuts would further depress economic activity, reducing tax revenues and worsening the debt-to-GNP ratio. Given that danger, the risk premium will not revert to its previous level in the absence of outside assistance.
The situation is aggravated by the market in credit default swaps, which is biased in favour of those who speculate on failure. Being long CDS, the risk automatically declines if they are wrong. This is the opposite of selling short stocks, where being wrong the risk automatically increases. Speculation in CDS may drive the risk premium higher.
So makeshift assistance should be enough for Greece, but that leaves Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland. Together they constitute too large a portion of euroland to be helped in this way. The survival of Greece would still leave the future of the euro in question. Even if it handles the current crisis, what about the next one? It is clear what is needed: more intrusive monitoring and institutional arrangements for conditional assistance. The question is whether the political will for these steps can be generated.