Congress blocks indiscriminate IMF aid for Europe
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
May 18th, 2010
Europe may have to clean up its own mess after all. The US Senate has voted 94:0 to block use of taxpayers’ money for IMF rescues that make no economic sense or bail-outs for countries like Greece that far are beyond the point of no return.
“This amendment will help prevent American taxpayer dollars from underwriting dysfunctional governments abroad,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn, the chief sponsor. “American taxpayers have seen more bailouts than they can stomach, and the last thing they should have to worry about are their hard-earned tax dollars being used to rescue a foreign government. Greece is not by any stretch of the imagination too big to fail.”
Co-sponsor David Vitter from Louisiana said America had run out of money. “Our country already owes trillions of dollars in debt. We simply can’t afford to take on other countries’ debt in addition to our own.”
It is unclear where this leaves the EU’s $1 trillion “shock and uh” package. Urlich Leuchtmann from Commerzbank said the IMF share of $320bn was the only genuine money on the table, the rest being largely euro smoke and mirrors, or plain bluff.
The measure is an amendment to the US financial overhaul law. Backed by both parties, it can hardly be ignored by the Obama administration whatever Tim Geithner may or may not want to do. The bill has to go to Conference for reconciliation with the House, but the point is made.
It instructs the US representative at the IMF to determine whether a country with a public debt above 100 per cent of GDP can be expected to repay IMF loans. If this cannot be certified, the US must oppose the rescue package.
This is obviously aimed at Greece, which will have a debt of 130 per cent by the end of this year. The debt will rise to 150 per cent by the end of its the rescue/death package, leaving Greece in a worse position than before.
The IMF share of the Greek bail-out is 30 times quota, more than double any other rescue in the history of the Fund. There is a very strong suspicion in Washington that the IMF is being misused by French chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn – French presidential candidate in waiting – to support ideological purposes regardless of economic logic or sanity. This can (and in my view most likely will) destroy the credibility of the Fund itself unless the US and Asians can wrench the institution back from the Europeans.
The US is the IMF’s biggest shareholder and can veto aid packages, though it has never done so because the Fund has never been so stupid as to defy the world’s dominant financial and strategic power.
In this case it fair to assume that China shares many of the Senate’s concerns. The latest US Treasury Tics data shows that China is rotating is vast reserves back into dollars, and presumably away from euro bonds. If we treat this as Chimerica – the US/Chinese single currency or condominium – we have a force in the world that cannot be pushed around.
Personally, I have changed my mind on Greece. My initial reaction earlier this year was that it had to be saved to avoid a sovereign Lehman. Many posters on this blog cried “shame”, saying it was just another moral hazard rescue for bankers. They were right. I flagellate myself and wear a dunce’s hat.
The correct policy would have been – and still is – to help Greece out of its debt-deflation death spiral through an orderly “pre-emptive debt restructuring” along the lines of the IMF package for Uruguay. In Greece’s case it would require a haircut of 50 per cent or so for foolhardy creditors, ie your bank and mine, your pension fund and mine. This would not do much good unless Greece also devalued by 30 per cent to 40 per cent to retrieve competitiveness and put the whole fixed-exchange nightmare behind it.
This would be the normal IMF policy in these circumstances as countless ex-IMF officials have stated. I suspect that many in the Bundesbank and the Bundestag finance committee would have liked this policy too – making an example of a country that was so far gone, and had so flagrantly broken the rules.
The IMF-EU should instead have drawn up its defences in Iberia, along the Lines of Torres Vedras – to borrow from Wellington. Portugal and Spain are at least defensible – arguably – and more deserving.
The solution is being blocked because Brussels views any step back in the EMU Project as intolerable. So the IMF is squandering its scarce resources on an unworkable plan in Greece.
As we can now see, by misusing the IMF so cavalierly the euro-elites have provoked a reaction from Washington that will vastly complicate any future rescue for any eurozone state.
In fact, we are already living in a post-IMF world. There is no bailer-of-last-resort. Sobering, isn’t it?