Wednesday, 9 November 2011

the strange power of being in debt


One of the (many) great things about Lords of Finance was the insight into how much power was wielded in the thirties by countries who were in debt. It's not the easiest power to use, but it's real. Creditor nations would be really screwed by a default and general systemic breakdown, and so they end up having to bail out...

Anyway, do read an article on much the same thing in Prospect by Tom Streithorst, which concludes:

The Germans would like the southern nations to pay the entire cost of adjustment by cutting wages, slashing demand and accepting an increase in unemployment. But the Greeks can see the upside of leaving the euro, even if it will devastate their bank balances. It is starting to look as though leaving the euro really would be the better of several bad options for the debtor nations. The northern eurozone countries don’t recognize it yet, but today the debtors have more cards than the creditors. Watch out.

Another excellent section is about how Detroit could have been saved if it could have devalued its currency, but it was tied to the stupid, strong dollar. The comparison between rich bits of the Eurozone bailing out poor bits and rich US States bailing out poor ones is not made enough. The parallels, exact and inexact, tell very interesting stories about democracy, economic power, group responsibility and so on.

(The other revelatory thing rammed home by Lords of Finance, in case you're new here, is that we tend to see the Great Depression as 'a crash' when actually it was years of shocks and aftershocks, interspersed with periods of people thinking they were out of the woods.)

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