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Obama's Looming International Debt Crisis

How long will the Obama administration kick the can down the road regarding the financial crisis in Greece? The financial debacle enveloping that country is not a problem that can be fixed just by the International Monetary Fund or the acquiescence of German politicians. There is a relatively new term entering the vernacular of financial crises worldwide: contagion, which is the preferred euphemistic language of central bankers and politicians for another word - financial panic. Greek two year bonds are trading at 20% interest rates now. There is no way Greece can roll over debt at those prices so the only "alternative" is currency debasement or chaos. Currency debasement is a softer form of debt repudiation but at the end of the day if it results in substantial harm to other creditor countries the consequences, historically, range from international trade isolation to war.

Megan McArdle has a good take on how this effects the American consumer at this link:

The Great Depression was composed of two separate panics. As you can see from contemporary accounts--and I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in the Great Depression read the archives of that blog along with Benjamin Roth's diary of the Great Depression--in 1930 people thought they'd seen the worst of things.

Unfortunately, the economic conditions created by the first panic were now eating away at the foundations of financial institutions and governments, notably the failure of Creditanstalt in Austria. The Austrian government, mired in its own problems, couldn't forestall bankruptcy; though the bank was ultimately bought by a Norwegian bank, the contagion had already spread. To Germany. Which was one of the reasons that the Nazis came to power. It's also, ultimately, one of the reasons that we had our second banking crisis, which pushed America to the bottom of the Great Depression, and brought FDR to power here.

Not that I think we're going to get another Third Reich out of this, or even another Great Depression. But it means we should be wary of the infamous "double dip" that a lot of economists have been expecting. The United States is in comparatively good shape, but the euro is in crisis, and already-weak European banks seem to be massively exposed to Greece's huge debt load. They're even more exposed to the debt of the other PIIGS [Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece], which is far too large for it all to be bailed out. The size of the rescue package that Greece needs is already going to take a fairly substantial chunk of the IMF's war chest.

And yet, like a lot of analysts, I don't see much chance that a bailout is going to work. As Felix Salmon points out, even a substantial IMF intervention isn't going to bring yields down to their pre-crisis levels, because the new debt is going to jump in front of other creditors--so while it reduces the odds of default, it also increases the haircut that debtors will have to take if the bailout actually happens.

It's not clear that Greece has the political will for the austerity measures it's going to have to make even if its debt yields come back down--and the higher they stay, the smaller the chance. This is about the calculation its creditors are making, which is why yields are now in the 20% range. Which, perversely, makes it more likely that they're going to lose their money

If Greece can't recover then what happens to the similarly weak economies of Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain? Any pandemic will consume the weakest first and financial crises are no different. The US dollar enjoys (still) the privilege of being a reserve currency (which means there is still a lot of room left to debase the currency) but that does not make this country immune to effects of a global depression. Is the Obama administration betting on Pacific Rim and Asian emerging markets growth to prop up failing Western economies simply because that's where the growth is? If US voters learned anything from the recent financial crisis it should be that panics are like snowballs. They start out small (Greece) and gather momentum until they become unmanageable. A rapidly growing US economy (sorry but 6% GDP growth comprised mostly of government spending will not do the trick), which dwarfs the size of the PIIGS and the European Union, could perhaps lift the anchor that weighs on the global economy. But the Obama administration has demonstrated an indefensible disregard to domestic pro growth policies and fiscal responsibility in the US.


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Comments (19)

You sound almost gleeful he... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

You sound almost gleeful here, as if you WANTED the world economy to go to hell in a handcart so you can somehow blame Obama.

Nah, that couldn't be it.

On another note, look at the third paragraph in your "kicking the can" link. "Reality finally hit in Europe despite Mr Almunia's claim that there are no default in the Eurozone that you are as solvent as you can roll your debt."

Huh? WTF does that even mean? Please somebody, anybody, diagram that sentence for me!

All the more reason why gol... (Below threshold)
Tsar Nicholas II:

All the more reason why gold and oil are good long-term bets, and why the U.S. bond market is a ticking time bomb....

Typical liberal/progressive... (Below threshold)
swift boater:

Typical liberal/progressive/socialist drivel by Bruce Henry. Has no argument, refutes nothing that is said but rips into the messenger.

What's even more over the edge is ripping the LINKED blogger. For Heavens sake man, go to that blog and make your snark, don't ask this blogger to speak for the linked blogger. If you do, ask me to speak for Barry O. I'd have a lot to say.

BH - "Nah, that couldn'... (Below threshold)

BH - "Nah, that couldn't be it."

You're right, and should have stopped there.

BruceThe format here... (Below threshold)

The format here makes diagramming sentences difficult but I've broken it down for you this way.

finally hit

Mr Almunia's claim that

there are
no default
in the Eurozone
that you
as solvent
as you can
roll your debt."

Does it make sense to you now? Hint: the active phrase is "roll your debt". Focus on that for a few years and perhaps you'll get it.

As for the non existent glee in my post I'd suggest you're engaged in some middlebrow projecting.

Perhaps the Russian debt cr... (Below threshold)

Perhaps the Russian debt crisis of 1998, which was precipitated by the Asian debt crisis in 1997, are better examples of what could potentially happen if Greece pulls down the EU.

The Asian crisis was largely due to out-of-control credit. Significant portions of the Pacific Rim economy were highly leveraged, and when concerned creditors began to call in the debts, the regional economy collapsed.

Russia lost a considerable amount of capital in the Asian market collapse, and the 1998 downturn in international crude oil and metal market prices further depleted the Russian money supply. The Russian government had been subsidizing the value of the ruble against foreign currency through debt, but after the Asian collapse it could no longer afford to do so. Fearing a devaluation of the ruble and a potential default on its treasury debt, the Russian stock market eventually collapsed.

Of course the Russian economy was already notoriously weak, as were most of the Pacific Rim nations that suffered several months earlier. Except for the spectacular failure of Long Term Capital Management (which itself was dangerously over-leveraged, and heavily vested in Asian and European treasuries) and the losses suffered by mutual funds composed primarily of Asian investments, the US economy was largely unaffected by these two crises.

But the prominent role that debt played in these events should be a dire warning to our own government, which is currently racking up debt at a dangerous rate.

My God folks! Don't ask Br... (Below threshold)

My God folks! Don't ask Brucie to THINK! He's all about DNC talking points and protecting his Obamassiah. You know, the guy EVEYONE says has a high IQ, but still manages to mispronounce "corpse man".

Eh -Douche Henry d... (Below threshold)

Eh -

Douche Henry doesn't understand a thing. Shockah!

Hey Douchie! Which Administration is adding trillions to the National debt as we comment? What happens when countries stop buying your debt? Stupid's obviously sold by the pound, and you've cornered the market, son!

Please Bruce for Barry's s... (Below threshold)

Please Bruce for Barry's sake and ours, quit making an ass of yourself and seek psychiatric help soon.

It is rather the Obammunist... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

It is rather the Obammunists who hope for a worldwide crash which can be, in its final eruption, traced to Europe (and as a bonus, possibly enable them to blame Republicans for blocking the power grab they call "financial reform" as presently constituted). It would also build a defense for the poor economic performance after their trillions in new spending.

It would give them something to talk about besides their nightmare health plan, and another crisis to use as an excuse to push through more "emergency legislation" before voters end their control of Congress.

Like "financial reform" already does, these new laws would seek to concentrate arbitrary power in the Executive.

OK.I get it now.</... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:


I get it now.

Thank you all for straightening me out. "Douche" Henry thanks you. Especially the part about the "Obammunists."

Psst. Putting lines between phrases of a sentence is not a diagram. The sentence may have been helped by splitting it into two, and a couple of strategically placed commas wouldn't have hurt.

I agree that Hugh is not responsible for the linked article's twisted language. My point was that it's difficult to trust financial analysis from someone who can't write and properly punctuate English sentences. There are several more examples in that same paragraph.

Here's a helpful hint for Mr Addison: People who accuse the President of the United States of wishing for a worldwide financial collapse can't be taken seriously. Especially when they employ words like "Obammunists."

See, when there is a financial collapse, the party in power typically is turned out of power, whether said collapse is their fault or not. For evidence, think way, way back to 2008.

Bruce -I know you'... (Below threshold)

Bruce -

I know you're trying valiantly to avoid recognizing there's any sort of problems with the world financial situation, but your seeming assumption that mangled syntax renders any problems or concerns null and void aren't making any sense. You're like the guy going "I can't be overdrawn, I still have checks!" when the bank teller informs him that his account is seriously in the red. Hell, what does SHE know? She's just a teller!

And I don't see anyone being gleeful about the looming disaster - except perhaps in a "You idiots - we TOLD you that you can't indefinitely borrow a lot more than you take in!" sort of way.

I'm afraid that Greece is just the beginning. Portugal's starting to rock also. You want to ignore the warings becuase you don't like the accent of the guy telling you the building may be on fire - that's your privelege. But I think things here are going to change very soon - and not for the better.

"For evidence, think way, w... (Below threshold)

"For evidence, think way, way back to 2008."

Yeah, unemployment was intolerably high, under 6%. The Dems had had control of the checkbook since 2006, and had steadfastly refused to look at whether Fannie and Freddie were pushing out loans that were worthless.

Must have been Bush's fault, all right. Darn him! Darn him and all those evil Republicans who didn't want to see folks with no proof of income buying McMansions all to heck!

It never gets old, does it? Pretending that the Dems are blameless and stainless in the meltdown? Pelosi and Reid cave to Frank's insistance that no oversight was needed - and hilarity ensues. Obama spends trillions, runs up the credit card to the limit and beyond - and you're blaming the Republicans?

Bruce - I'm sorry, but sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming "It's all Bush's fault!" isn't going to change what the Democrats have done since 2006.

Douche Henry (hey you accep... (Below threshold)

Douche Henry (hey you accepted the moniker):

See, when there is a financial collapse, the party in power typically is turned out of power, whether said collapse is their fault or not. For evidence, think way, way back to 2008.

It depends on your goals. Pelosi has already expressed that she's willing to lose seats to push the Obama agenda through Congress. A country's a much more "malleable" when in the midst of a crisis. Hence why Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, made his famous phrase about "never letting a crisis go to waste". Obama's stated goal is to transform America. Obama needs continued crisis to push his agenda (see Cloward-Piven).

I'm not going to diagram the sentence for you but I'll summarize so that you can understand:
Obama likes crisis. Crisis lets him claim that he's "fixing". Instead, he pushes government expansion through under the guise of "reform".
I oppose because I understand that more government necessarily means less freedom.

Re: # 13:Please sh... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Re: # 13:

Please show me where, in my comment, I blamed the Republicans, Mr Lawson. I think I specifically threw in a qualifying phrase, "whether said collapse is their fault or not."

In your zeal to show how much smarter you are than I, you failed to read all the way through, I guess.

I'm pretty sure the financial meltdown of 2008 was a little more complex than you suggest, and that sincere people can see it differently, but that's for another thread. The point is no politician in power wishes for the bottom to drop out, for fear that he and his party will be blamed, AGAIN, "whether said collapse is their fault or not."

EVEN the eevil Obama, Macchiavellian as he may be, isn't immune from that result. And he knows it. And so does Mr Addison, but that didn't stop him from saying something entirely absurd.

But the absurdity of it escapes our friend _Mike_, who, I fear, has a sense of humor stuck in 5th grade. No, for him, absurdity has the ring of truth!

Bruce -Plausible D... (Below threshold)

Bruce -

Plausible Deniability - you've really got it down.

"Plausible" because it's tr... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

"Plausible" because it's true, Mr Lawson. Unless you can show me different.

Seriously, Mr Lawson, I think you may have contracted Mallow-Drummond Syndrome, a condition in which the victim becomes unable to distinguish what someone says from what the victim wants them to have said. This enables the victim to rationalise arguments with an imaginary opponent. There is no known cure.

With Europe imploding, (aga... (Below threshold)
Constitution First:

With Europe imploding, (again) I have to ask:

Why is 0bambi emulating the same failed policies?

Is he expecting different results? Because Europe has tried repeatedly with the same results. Einstein had a word for that.

I see failed Socialist polices in the face of every Illegal Alien who flees to this Nation for economic freedom.

The world is soon to collap... (Below threshold)

The world is soon to collapse financially and with that, Obama can call for a merger of nations ( heavily unionized of course ) and that will be the final straw with voters. I fear however, that it might be too late.

War always results in times like these and when all of you under 25 year olds that voted for him and his policy of change end up drafted ( yes, he will re instate the draft, as all dems do that ) and fighting a war.

How is all the hope and change working out for you now? Hmmmmm?

November is fast approaching but it too may be too late to save America or at least to save 60% of America. If we can just make it to 2012, Obama will be thrown out of office onto the garbage pile of irrelevant history.






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