Thursday marks another deadline in Greece’s struggle to avoid default, as a €450 million payment to the International Monetary Fund comes due. Athens says it will meet this obligation, but sooner or later Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his government will miss a payment to someone if it doesn’t agree with creditors on a new bailout. An exit from the euro would then be a real possibility.Please can we stop passing along this canard -- that Greece defaulting on some of its bonds means that Greece must must change currencies. Greece no more needs to leave the euro zone than it needs to leave the meter zone and recalibrate all its rulers, or than it needs to leave the UTC+2 zone and reset all its clocks to Athens time. When large companies default, they do not need to leave the dollar zone. When cities and even US states default they do not need to leave the dollar zone. A common currency means that sovereigns default just like large financial companies. (Yes, a bit of humor in the last one.)
Sure we can have an argument about whether it would be a good idea. The first 147 devaluations and currency confiscations didn't produce Singapore on the Mediterranean, but maybe the 148th will do the trick. The canard is the logical necessity of Grexit.
This is a particularly dangerous canard too. Greece is undergoing a slow motion bank run. Greeks are wisely taking their euros out of Greek banks and either holding cash or taking it abroad. So, how to Greek banks give them euros without selling all their assets -- loans and Greek government bonds? Answer, they get the money from the Greek central bank, which gets the euros from the ECB. The ECB is getting antsy about funding not just Greek government debt, but the whole Greek banking system.
Sooner or later Greeks will translate all this central banker speak about "capital controls" "liquidity management" and so forth to "there is a good chance that tomorrow morning your bank account will be frozen or converted to Drachmas." Then the run of all time starts and the whole thing unravels.
How do you stop that from happening? By shouting from the rooftops that the currency remains the euro, no matter if the government defaults on its loans to the IMF. At least we can shout from the rooftops that changing currencies is a separate decision, and that stiffing the IMF does not imply the logical necessity of grabbing Greek bank accounts.
To be sure the article gets much right. It's main thesis: Letting Greece default might be the right thing to do
But if Athens won’t implement reforms that would return Greece to growth and sustainable finances, allowing the country to leave would be the least bad outcome.And if the WSJ understood that "allowing the country to default" is not the same thing as "allowing the country to leave" the case is even stronger. (Though who does this "allowing" is a bit muddy. One more subject-less sentence infects the forlorn English language of policy-speak)
No one should cheer a Greek exit, which would be a disaster for the Greeks.Yes. Yet another reason to separate sovereign default from a change of monetary units.
Greece’s main contagion threat now would be if it is bailed out again without reform.This is the article's central point, and a good one. In financial as in foreign policy, people take important lessons from discovering that threats are empty.
The strongest argument against allowing Greece to leave the euro is that it would dent the bloc’s appearance of permanence, making the euro more like a currency peg that members could leave at will.Exactly. And if we would all go back to the original Instruction Manual For the Euro, that says sovereign default can happen, just like corporate default, and does not require a change of currency, that permanence would be all the more assured.