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The Greek and the American Financial Crises -- Similarities and Differences.
Raymond Richman, 4/8/2010

Greece is experiencing a monetary crisis. It is incapable of servicing her debt which is payable in euros. It faces defaulting. No one mentions the true cause of  its difficulties, the trade deficits with other euro countries,  particularly Germany.  It has to pay for its imports in euros. In 2009, Greece’s trade deficit with Germany amounted to €4.81 billion. Other euro countries are having similar difficulties balancing their trade with Germany. In 2009, Italy’s trade deficit with Germany amounted to €11.4 billion; Portugal, €2.62 billion; and Spain, €12 billion. We mention these countries because analysts have suggested that they are beginning to face the same problem that Greece faces, a scarcity of euros.

Greece faces the problem that many countries experienced under the gold standard, a scarcity of legal tender to service their debt. Were the U.S. on the gold standard, it, too, would face a scarcity of gold that would threaten its economic stability.

The problem is that the European countries, with the exception of the United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden, are on the euro standard. ...

The Euro standard works like the gold standard. As a result of chronic trade deficits, countries have to deflate prices, including wages, to make their goods competitive in world markets and countries with surpluses like Germany are supposed to inflate their prices and wages to make their goods less competitive. The United States which experienced an $800 billion trade deficit with the rest of the world in 2008 -- over $250 billion with China alone – has been urging China to allow its yuan to rise relative to the US dollar in order to reduce its trade deficit.

The U.S. does not face a problem of servicing its foreign debt because countries have been lending it billions by buying its bonds and other financial assets. And unlike Greece, U.S. debt instruments are denominated in U.S. dollars. While printing dollars to service its debt should there be a run on the dollar would have serious economic consequences, bankruptcy is not one. Inflation, even hyperinflation, is a likely consequence but countries survive hyperinflation as Germany and Brazil have demonstrated.   

WSJ on 4-7-2010 reported that Greek government bond yields and the cost of insuring Greek debt rose amid concern that Greece may be looking to cut the IMF out of a recent aid pact. It appears more and more likely that the IMF will have to come to Greece’s rescue unless Germany changes its policy of maintaining its chronic trade surpluses. The reason Greece would prefer loans from the European community is that the IMF would require as a pre-condition that Greece take severe austerity measures to increase its ability to export and earn euros and other foreign currencies.

We’ll have to see how the European community resolves the Greek monetary crisis and how it intends to avoid an increasingly likelihood that Spain, Portugal, and perhaps Italy will confront scarcities of euros.

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  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

    Atlantic Economic Journal:

  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]