Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Irish bailout: Barry Eichengreen is mad (and he is right)

Barry Eichengreen has written a great piece for the blog The Irish Economy. He is known (as he states himself in the introduction) as being one of the most pro-Euro(pean) of the U.S. academics but he feels that the handling of the Irish situation is a disaster. The fact that the Irish government that had a very healthy fiscal position before the crisis ends up with an exploding debt because of the bailout that it provided to private banks, does not sound right to him. Why were holders of Irish bank bonds protected from the failure of these banks? This is not a new question, it has also been raised in other countries where governments have stepped in to ensure the viability of the financial system. But the magnitude of the debt burden that the government is passing to tax payers in Ireland is such that is potentially making the Irish government insolvent.

Eichengreen is pessimistic and he thinks that the provision of the liquidity that the Irish government will receive is simply postponing the inevitable. And the only reason why the other countries agreed is because they are trying to protect their own banks who hold the debt of the Irish banks.

So Barry Eichengreen sees debt restructuring happening soon and he is probably right. And his prediction is not about the economics of debt and deficits; in principle, governments could pay a very large amount of debt with future tax revenues. The real question is whether this is politically feasible. Will Irish tax payers be willing to pay for the failures of these banks? Not obvious when you look at the potential payments associated with current debt levels.

Antonio Fatás
on December 02, 2010 |   Edit