Solving the Euro crisis - objections to "printing" money

One way to solve the Euro crisis is to let the central bank purchase the bonds of European countries. What are the objections to doing this, and how how likely are they to wind up doing it anyway?

Is there another way?

Two objections, 1. does the central bank have enough money? 2. Moral Hazard
The second question calls for speculation so there is no factual answer. I think the odds are about 75% that will happen.

“Printing Money” is a nother way to say, “suddenly there’s a lot more money flinging around”. Easy money means people will charge more for what they have, since some people ahve more money to spend. This is where inflation comes from…

The other problem is, what do you mean by “purchase the bonds”? The problem is, bonds are loans - the government of Greece, for example could not even pay off the bonds/loans already outstanding. It did not take in enough tax revenue to pay its bills even if it stopped paying back its loans. So when the central bank “purchases the bonds” are they simply giving Greece money that will never be paid back? If so, where does it stop? “The diet starts tomorrow, have some more ice cream”?

When inflation gets going, some win, some lose. the people that have money, lose usually. their savings are suddenly worth less. Those who have fixed incomes, pension, etc - they lose.

The people of Germany figure, they behaved themselves, they restrained spending and debt to be sure they could pay it off. Why should their old age pensions etc. buy less, just because teh Greeks could not restrain themselves? (Analogy - Why should your savings suffer because California and some of its cities cannot stop spending like drunken sailors?)

What needs to happen is that stupid promises, like Greek civil service pensions of $50,000-plus at age 55, need to be reduced. No Greek politician has the petras to tell all the pensioners they get a cut because they over-promised, so the problem is kicked down the road. If they went to a Greek currency, and only greek government payments were only worth 1/10th, then that would straighten out the banking system in a hurry - and provide an object lesson to the other unrestrained economies…

The European Central Bank has already purchased member state bonds. However, they have done so on a relatively small scale (200 billion euros). In the United States, by contrast, the Fed has bought about $2 trillion in T-bonds, with more to come.

So the real question is, will the ECB ever purchase bonds on the scale of the Fed?

I doubt it. The obvious obstacle is political argument over whose bonds get purchased and in what quantitites. Every purchase (unlike in the US) represents a subsidy from one part of the euro zone to another. Furthermore, every bond held represents a real future obligation, from one party (a member state) to another (the entire euro zone). In the US Fed-held bonds represent a paper obligation from one party (the US government) to the same party (another part of the US government), so issues of rollover versus repayment are minimized.

As to the first objection, it seems like there’s a way around that: purchase bonds from everyone, perhaps in proportion to the size of the country.

As to the subsidy, I’m not sure there is one. What is the additional burden on - say - Germany if the ECB purchases government bonds from Spain? Germany isn’t obligated to pay them back.

It’s true what you say about paper obligations - Fed open market operations are just two branches of the government swapping pieces of paper. But is it really so different in Europe? I mean, the ECB can hold bonds as long as it wants, can’t it? How is that different from the Fed? What is the rollover issue?

Which would be pointless and expensive, because they don’t have problems in that same ratio. The entire point would be to transfer money from rich to poor, which is exactly what is being objected to.

Where do you think the ECB would get the money to pay it back? There’s a reason that every bailout has basically been backed mostly by Germany.

Money does not come from nowehere (unless you do the aforementioned printing, which has the aforementioned issues). Unless Germany agrees to pony up the cash, this isn’t going to happen because there’s no money to buy the bonds. And if Germany does, it may not be a rich country much longer.

IANAE, but if the ECB prints money, doesn’t that effectively devalue all existing euros? Which hurts creditors (e.g. Germany) and benefits debtors (e.g. Spain). Effectively a subsidy from creditors to debtors.

I guess the other side is what purpose is served by crushing the Greek economy to nothing? Their unemployment rate is over 22%, commercial revenue has fallen by 50%, tax revenue is shrinking because there’s nothing to tax. How can they pay their debts when their economy is coming apart at the seams?

In terms of inflation, the Fed bought trillions in bonds, without creating inflation. Isn’t that proof that central bank purchases don’t necessarily create inflation?

Maybe inflation would have otherwise been lower?

This: there most certainly has been noticable inflation. It’s not runaway, but it’s there. More to the point, the situation isn’t quite analogous.

Money does come from nowhere - or rather it comes from banks. But it was nowhere until the banks the banks created it.

And as far as transfer of wealth is concerned, I dont know that central bank lending creates it. If it did the mechanism would be inflation. But our own central bank has lent trillions without creating inflation.

Like the adjustment at the fall of the USSR - Greece needs to get its obligations in line with its ability to pay. Since they have promised so much more in pensions, civil service pay, low or skipped taxes, etc. - they must lower the payouts or raise the revenue. The nice thing about a separate currency is that this equalization process is much easier… The currency becomes lower valued.

The reason the fed could borrow 2 trillion is that unlike Greece, the USA can afford to pay interest on that loan. For all the screams about comparisons… The US is not anywhere close to as broke as Greece is.

The reason the trillions did not create inflation is also simple - it did not greatly increase the money supply, it simply filled in for the value that disappeared with the housing crash. Instead of thousands of contractors paying people with borrowed private money to build houses, we had thousands of contracts paying people to pave roads. Public funds.

Maybe. But if you look at the relationship between central bank lending and inflation, there doesn’t seem to be one.

The basic objection to any solution to the Eurozone crisis is that it will benefit the ailing southern countries, at the expense of Germany and the other northern creditors like Austria and Finland. Potential solutions all follow that pattern:

  1. Bailouts - involve direct transfers from Germany and Co. to the southern economies.

  2. “Eurobonds” - involve Germany essentially underwriting the debts of the southern economies.

  3. Higher inflation targets at the ECB - would help pull the southern economies back to being competitive, but at the expense of Germany.

  4. ECB bond purchases - are a roundabout way of transferring funds from Germany to the southern economies through a mixture of higher inflation and money transfers.

And so on. The other alternative however - Germany refusing to provide any further assistance - would quickly lead to countries like Greece defaulting on its debt (a lot of which is owed to German banks) and crashing out of the Euro, with disastrous consequences for the whole of Europe including Germany.

So there’s no good options left, really.

Why are we talking about Greece, anyway? That’s so last year. Spain is where it’s at now - a much bigger problem. Apparently they have started hinting at maybe allowing the possibility of discussing euro exit to cross their minds. Probably brinksmanship, but that’s how bad it’s got.

As I understand it, when the Fed “prints money” and purchases bonds, it’s not purchasing newly issued bonds from the Treasury, it’s buying existing bonds from the open market. So there’s no new debt incurred by the government.

Wouldn’t that be how the ECB would do it? If so, then the Greek treasury wouldn’t be issuing any new bonds nor incurring new debt.

I’m not saying doing this would help the situation, just that it wouldn’t increase Greek debt.

Then again, maybe I’m misunderstanding you, or maybe I’m misunderstanding the whole situation.

(bolding mine)

In fact, the country most at risk in case of default is France, not Germany. France, for some reason, has been the largest lender within the Eurozone.

For instance, French banks are owned € 416 billions by Italy and Italian banks (Germany : € 162 billions), and € 56 billions by Greece and Greek banks (Germany : € 21 billions). Germany, however, is more exposed to Spanish and Irish debt, and for Portugal, it’s about the same (the most exposed country in this case being Spain).

And of course, France has a smaller and less healthy economy than Germany, making the threat of default even more important.

If, following some domino effect, Italy was to default, Germany would be in deep shit, but France would be in very, very, deep shit. Which in part explains why France is more eager to find a solution at whatever cost than Germany (also, there are cultural reasons, etc…).
I would note that one of the notation agency has warned that Germany and the Netherlands might lose their AAA status (and those were, along with Austria, considered to be the healthiest economies in the Eurozone). I looked at some graphic somewhere that showed that the only really healthy economies (low level of both debt and public deficit) left in the EU are Finland and Estonia.

Something else that appears like a good thing at first glance but I find worrying is that currently France is borrowing on the short term at negative interest rates (and I assume if it’s true for France, it’s probably true also for Germany). I find this worrying because it means that investors are desperate enough to be willing to lose money to put it in something assumed to be relatively safe (and obviously, they’re losing money not only to the small negative interest rate, but also to inflation).

There doesn’t seem to be one because you’re using flawed measurements of inflation. The Fed methodology for CPI doesn’t try to track true “purchasing power.”

Prices have gone up. Groceries, college tuition rates, health care costs, airline travel, utility bills (electricity, cable TV, etc).

As for Greece. Why would the stronger countries lend more money to Greece’s corrupt government if it does enact any real reforms to be good caretakers of it? The end result is that the debt doesn’t get paid. In that case, the German citizens can simply withdraw a stack of Euros from the local bank and toss it into their fireplaces. It accomplishes the same task of debt non-payment in a simpler fashion with the added benefit of a visceral and symbolic action that underscores the futility of “helping” Greece.

The problem Greece had/has/will have is that it cannot even meet the obligations on the very-low interest bonds it owes on, and cannot pay the other obligations (salaries, contracts, pensions, etc.); nobody wants to lend it more money, unless they pay credit-card level of interest rates…

Having the Euro-Fed buy the existing bonds won’t do anything for Greece, unless they also say “oh, don’t bother paying us back”, which is the same as giving Greece money. Meanwhile, they bought these bonds from people dumb enough to lend Greece money it could not afford, so that would be giving money to greedy stupid bankers (are there other types?). And, it makes the whole euro-zone responsible for the losses from Greece. If Germany, say, were to do that, hy not bail out the screwed German banks only, and let other governments worry about their own stupid banks.

I’m reminded of the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the do-gooder on the side of the road says “Here, brother, let me help you carry that cross.” The guy about to be crucified says “Oh, Ok, here” and buggers off, leaving Mister Do-Gooder to haul the cross and be crucified. “But this isn’t my cross! I’m just holding it for a friend!”

Spain is an even weirder case. Apparently the Spanish government is not overspending greek-style. However, their banks did loan money like crazy for greek bonds and especially housing loans, just like American banks. Now all that bad debt has come home to roost. All the stuff I mentioned above - let the stupid bankers suffer - is Spain’s problem. Either they let their major banks fold and destroy the Spanish economy, or they bail them out taking on government junk debt that they cannot afford. The people who loan goevrnments money see this coming, and want to charge Spain ridiculous rates of interest too -meaning Spain will have massive debts and ridiculous interest rates and will go broke. It only takes on hole to sink a ship, unlike the seive they have in Greece.

Germany once again says, why should we suffer to fix the problems of greedy stupid Spanish bankers?

Because greedy stupid German bankers lent tons of money to greedy stupid Spanish bankers (€ 180 billions, that’s 6% of German GNP)?