Soros Vs Sinn: To 'Eurobond' Or To Save The Euro

The debate rages... Soros: "The euro crisis has already transformed the European Union from a voluntary association of equal states into a creditor-debtor relationship from which there is no easy escape. The creditors stand to lose large sums should a member state exit the monetary union, yet debtors are subjected to policies that deepen their depression, aggravate their debt burden, and perpetuate their subordinate position. As a result, the crisis is now threatening to destroy the EU itself. That would be a tragedy of historic proportions, which only German leadership can prevent." Sinn: "Soros is playing with fire... Many investors echo Soros. They want to cut and run – to unload their toxic paper onto intergovernmental rescuers, who should pay for it with the proceeds of Eurobond sales, and put their money in safer havens... Soros does not recognize the real nature of the eurozone’s problems. The ongoing financial crisis is merely a symptom of the monetary union’s underlying malady: its southern members’ loss of competitiveness... His accusation that Germany is imposing austerity is unfair. Austerity is imposed by the markets, not by those countries providing the funds to mitigate the crisis."



Via Project Syndicate:

"Germany's Choice" by George Soros

The euro crisis has already transformed the European Union from a voluntary association of equal states into a creditor-debtor relationship from which there is no easy escape. The creditors stand to lose large sums should a member state exit the monetary union, yet debtors are subjected to policies that deepen their depression, aggravate their debt burden, and perpetuate their subordinate position. As a result, the crisis is now threatening to destroy the EU itself. That would be a tragedy of historic proportions, which only German leadership can prevent.

 

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Once this is understood, the solution practically suggests itself. It can be summed up in one word: Eurobonds.

 

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Germany has the right to reject Eurobonds. But it has no right to prevent the heavily indebted countries from escaping their misery by banding together and issuing them. If Germany is opposed to Eurobonds, it should consider leaving the euro.

 

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There is a strong case for Germany to decide whether to accept Eurobonds or leave the eurozone, but it is less obvious which of the two alternatives would be better for the country. Only the German electorate is qualified to decide.

 

If a referendum in Germany were held today, the supporters of a eurozone exit would win hands down.

 

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Europe would be infinitely better off if Germany made a definitive choice between Eurobonds and a eurozone exit, regardless of the outcome; indeed, Germany would be better off as well. The situation is deteriorating, and, in the longer term, it is bound to become unsustainable. A disorderly disintegration resulting in mutual recriminations and unsettled claims would leave Europe worse off than it was when it embarked on the bold experiment of unification. Surely that is not in Germany’s interest.

"Should Germany Exit the Euro?" by Hans-Werner Sinn

Last summer, the financier George Soros urged Germany to agree to the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism, calling on the country to “lead or leave.” Now he says that Germany should exit the euro if it continues to block the introduction of Eurobonds.

 

Soros is playing with fire. Leaving the eurozone is precisely what the newly founded “Alternative for Germany” party, which draws support from a wide swath of society, is demanding.

 

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Many investors echo Soros. They want to cut and run – to unload their toxic paper onto intergovernmental rescuers, who should pay for it with the proceeds of Eurobond sales, and put their money in safer havens. The public already is being misused in an effort to mop up junk securities and support feeble banks, with taxpayer-funded institutions such as the ECB and the bailout programs having by now provided €1.2 trillion ($1.6 trillion) in international credit.

 

If Soros were right, and Germany had to choose between Eurobonds and the euro, many Germans would surely prefer to leave the euro. The new German political party would attract much more support, and sentiment might shift. The euro itself would be finished; after all, its primary task was to break the Bundesbank’s dominance in monetary policy.

 

But Soros is wrong.

 

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Worst of all, Soros does not recognize the real nature of the eurozone’s problems. The ongoing financial crisis is merely a symptom of the monetary union’s underlying malady: its southern members’ loss of competitiveness.

 

The euro gave these countries access to cheap credit, which was used to finance wage increases that were not underpinned by productivity gains. This led to a price explosion and massive external deficits.

 

Maintaining these countries’ excessive prices and nominal incomes with artificially cheap credit guaranteed by other countries would only make the loss of competitiveness permanent.

 

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Thus, the only remaining option, as unpleasant as it may be for some countries, is to tighten budget constraints in the eurozone. After years of easy money, a way back to reality must be found. If a country is bankrupt, it must let its creditors know that it cannot repay its debts. And speculators must take responsibility for their decisions, and stop clamoring for taxpayer money whenever their investments turn bad.

 

George Soros responds:

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Allowing the bulk of outstanding national debts to be converted into Eurobonds would work wonders. It would greatly facilitate the creation of an effective banking union, and it would allow member states to undertake their own structural reforms in a more benign environment.

 

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If Germany and other creditor countries are unwilling to accept the contingent liabilities that Eurobonds entail, as they are today, they should step aside, leave the euro by amicable agreement, and allow the rest of the eurozone to issue Eurobonds.

 

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Whether Germany agrees to Eurobonds or leaves the euro, either choice would be infinitely preferable to the current state of affairs. The current arrangements allow Germany to pursue its narrowly conceived national interests but are pushing the eurozone as a whole into a long-lasting depression that will affect Germany as well.

 

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There is no escaping the conclusion that current policies are ill-conceived.

 

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The heavily indebted countries must channel the rising their citizens’ discontent into a more constructive channel by coming together and calling on Germany to make the choice.

 

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All of Europe would benefit if Germany assumed the role of a benevolent leader that takes into account not only its narrow self-interest, but also the interests of the rest of Europe – a role similar to that played by the US in the global financial system after World War II, and by Germany itself prior to its reunification.

 

Hans-Werner Sinn responds:

Germany will not accept Eurobonds. The exclusion of debt mutualisation schemes was its main condition for giving up the deutschmark and signing the Maastricht Treaty (article 125 TFEU). Moreover, the German Supreme Court has indicated that Germany will require a referendum before Eurobonds can be introduced.

 

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His accusation that Germany is imposing austerity is unfair. Austerity is imposed by the markets, not by those countries providing the funds to mitigate the crisis.

 

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Should the euro break up and the GIPSIC countries default, Germany alone would lose about €545 billion euros, nearly half of the aggregate sum mentioned, since the Bundesbank has carried out most of the net payments on behalf of the GIPSIC countries that are reflected in the Target balances.

 

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George Soros underestimates the risks that debt mutualisation would pose for the future of the eurozone. When Alexander Hamilton, the first US finance minister, mutualised state debts in 1791, he thought this would cement the new American nation. But the mutualisation of debt gave rise to huge moral hazard effects, inducing the states to borrow excessively. A credit bubble emerged that burst in 1838 and drove most of the US states into bankruptcy. Nothing but animosity and strife resulted.

 

The euro crisis arose because investors have mispriced the risks of investing in southern Europe.

 

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Soros says that Germany will suffer from exiting the eurozone, because of the revaluation of the deutschmark. This is not true. First, Germany is currently undervalued and would benefit from a limited appreciation via the terms-of-trade effect. The advantage of imports becoming cheaper more than outweighs the losses in export revenue.

 

George Soros responds:

Hans-Werner Sinn’s response confirms my fear that the euro will eventually destroy the European Union. The longer it takes, the greater the political damage and the human suffering – and it may take a long time.

 

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I do not agree with all of Sinn’s arguments, but there is no point in getting bogged down in the details. The point is that the current state of affairs is intolerable. Sinn claims that the root cause of the euro crisis is that the Mediterranean countries are not competitive. If he represents German public opinion correctly, a mutually agreed breakup of the eurozone into two currency blocs would be preferable to preserving the status quo.

 

The division of the euro into two blocs would cause serious dislocations. Germany assuming the role of a benign hegemon would benefit everyone, but that seems to be unattainable.

Source: Project Syndicate