Willem Buiter’s New Job

WIllem Buiter has had a varied career in academia and government service. Most recently, he has been a prominent economics blogger via the Maverecon site (hosted by the FT).  The Maverecon blog is now ceasing, since he has a new job as chief economist at Citi.  See the announcement here.

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As one of the world’s most distinguished macroeconomists, current professor of political economy at the L.S.E., a consultant to Goldman Sachs, previously having held posts at the EBRD, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of New England and correctly anticipating the collapse of the Icelandic banking system, he previously warned Ireland not to follow in Iceland’s footsteps in providing blanket government guarantees to bankrupt institutions.

He has also warned of the potential for Eurozone sovereign default …..

“The massive build-up of sovereign debt as a result of the financial crisis and especially as a result of the severe contraction that followed the crisis, makes it all but inevitable that the final chapter of the crisis and its aftermath will involve sovereign default, perhaps dressed up as sovereign debt restructuring or even debt deferral. The Dubai World and Nakheel debt standstill and possible default is of systemic significance only because it may well be a harbinger of future sovereign financial distress, in Dubai and elsewhere.
From Dubai to Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Japan, France, the UK and the USA, the sovereign debt burdens have been at current levels during peacetime only on the way down from even higher public debt burdens incurred during wars.

Watching the public debt to GDP ratios rise to levels likely to reach or exceed 100 percent of GDP by 2014 is deeply worrying, especially with structural primary (non-interest) deficits as high as they are.
The political economy of fiscal burden sharing, inside nations and between nations, will be a major field of enquiry for economists and political scientists during the years to come. I am pessimistic in that regard about countries characterised by deep polarisation and political gridlock.
This includes nations as different as Greece and the USA.

It is clear that nations whose public debt is mainly denominated in domestic currency and whose central bank is either not very independent or can be make dependent by the government of the day are likely to choose inflation and exchange rate depreciation over default as a way out of fiscal-financial unsustainability. That category would include the USA and, to a lesser extent, the UK.

Because the ECB faces 16 national governments and national ministries of finance, the power and independence of the ECB are much greater vis-a-vis any Euro Area member state than the power and independence of any central bank facing a single national government and Treasury. That is regardless of the formal independence criteria laid down in laws, treaties or constitutions.
The practical implication of this is that the ECB will not monetise the government debt and deficits of small European Area member states. Only Germany can really push the ECB around, partly for historical reasons, partly because it is the largest and most powerful Euro Area and EU member state and partly because of the geographic reality that the ECB is on its territory – in the final analysis the German government can order a siege of the Eurotower …

For small peripheral European nations, the threat of sovereign insolvency is therefore a real one, unless EU fiscal solidarity can be relied upon to bail them out.
When Ireland was about to be swept away by a wave of global financial mistrust triggered by the Irish government’s decision to guarantee effectively all liabilities of its banks, the then German Finance Minister Steinbruck made the amazing statement (which he obviously had not checked with his coalition partners, his Chancellor or his voters) that the Eurozone countries would not let one of their own go into default.

The year that has passed since then has made this implicit commitment to a Eurozone, let alone an EU cross-border sovereign bail-out rather less credible.
All EU sovereigns are, to varying degrees, in fiscal dire straits. We may well see in the next few years the first sovereign default by an old EU15 country since Germany defaulted on its debt in 1948.
If the travails of Dubai wake us up to that possibility, they will have done some good. Sovereign defaults are not acts of God. They are the result of choices.

If we continue to play the political game in a business-as-usual mode, there could be quite widespread sovereign debt restructuring throughout the advanced industrial world. If we grow up, we can avoid the worst.”

Spotted this on wikipedia:

“The move is particulary curious considering Buiter, in an April 2009 blog post, described Citigroup as ‘a conglomeration of worst practice from across the financial spectrum'”

Looks like at least one financial company has decided to operate outside of its own cozy circle.

Citi is one of the worst banks so it needs advice. Will they heed it? Will he stay? Not even Superman can save Citi. It is all about music and finding a chair when it stops.

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