Beware of journalists bearing history lessons
This post was written by Kevin O’Rourke
Today’s Irish Times contains this gem from Stephen Collins:
Another issue that did not get serious traction in the talks was the simplistic call to “burn the bondholders” for which German chancellor Angela Merkel has to take a lot of responsibility.
The European Central Bank was adamantly opposed to the notion as any such move would threaten the financial stability of Europe. It is ironic that the zealots of the US Tea Party movement and many of those on the left in Ireland share a common belief in “burning bondholders” and damn the consequences.
The lesson of the Great Depression of the 1930s was that taking that kind of approach leads to widespread bank failures and national economic collapse which, in turn, threatens the democratic foundations on which our society is built.
Give me a break.
The bank failures of the 1930s were due to bank runs caused by excessively conservative monetary policies, and in particular by the determination of elites to stick with the gold standard well past its sell-by date. Burning bondholders had nothing to do with it.
Insofar as the 1930s involved debt restructuring (in Latin America, for example), this was part of the solution, not part of the problem — cf. the work by Eichengreen and Portes.
The lesson of the 1930s is that slavish adherence to economic orthodoxy can lead to disaster, and that sometimes you need a radical break with past policy mistakes in order to turn around expectations and prepare the way for recovery. FDR’s abandoning the gold standard was one such radical break; there were other radical breaks with the past that were much less benign, and that were directly caused by previous hyper-orthodoxy.
Finally abandoning the socialization of private losses would not just have made the Irish state more solvent, but would have clearly signalled a new beginning in Irish political and economic life. As things stand, it is hard to disagree with Mohamed El-Erian that the present deal is not the game-changer that Ireland needs.