Tag: too big to save

Could The US Become Another Ireland?

By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

As Greece acts in an intransigent manner, refusing to act decisively despite deep fiscal difficulties, the financial markets look on Ireland all the more favorably.  Ireland is seen as the poster child for prudent fiscal adjustment among the weaker eurozone countries. 

The Irish economy is in serious trouble.  Irish GDP declined 7.3% as of third quarter 2009 compared with third quarter 2008.  Exports were down 9% year-on-year in December.  House prices continue to fall.  While stuck in the eurozone, Ireland’s exchange rate cannot move relative to its major trading partners – it thus cannot improve competitiveness without drastic private sector wage cuts.  Yet investors are so pleased with the country that its bond yields imply just a one percent greater annual chance of default than Germany over the next five years.

Ireland’s perceived “success” is partly due to its draconian fiscal cuts.  The government has cut take home pay of public sector workers by roughly 20% since 2008 through lower wages, higher taxes, and increased pension payments.  As the head of the National Treasury Management Agency John Corrigan proudly advised the Greeks (and everyone else):  “You have to talk the talk and walk the walk”.

So is Ireland truly a model for Greece and other potential problems in Europe and elsewhere? Definitely not – but it does provide a cautionary tale regarding what could go wrong for all of us. Continue reading “Could The US Become Another Ireland?”

Way Too Big To Save

By Simon Johnson

Listening to US officials, talking to legal experts, and waiting for an intense Senate debate on financial reform to begin, you can easily form the impression that “too big to fail” adequately describes our most serious future systemic banking problems.  It does not.

In September 2008, the large banks and quasi-banks at the heart of our financial system faced failure – and they were saved in the most immediate sense through actions taken by the Federal Reserve, but TARP (passed by Congress and run Treasury) also played a significant supporting role. 

The Bush administration threw a small fiscal stimulus into the mix in early 2008, hoping to stave off recession; the Obama administration committed a much larger package at the start of 2009, aiming to prevent anything like a Second Great Depression.  This fiscal policy response was in direct reaction to problems caused by the overextension and near failure of the financial system

Do not make the mistake – for example of Secretary Geithner, talking to the New Yorker – of thinking (or implying) that “saving the financial system” did not involve spending a lot of taxpayer money to support the real economy.  Remember that if the economy crashes, asset prices fall, and banks’ problems become even more severe.

And try to avoid three further mistakes that are currently common. Continue reading “Way Too Big To Save”