This blog publishes articles by leading academic economists on issues relevant to economic policy and reforms in Greece. The crisis in Greece is also a time of opportunity: ambitious reforms can be undertaken that will not only stave off bankruptcy, but also modernize Greece’s economy and raise the productivity and incomes of Greek citizens on a sustainable basis. The articles in this blog aim to offer constructive proposals and impartial analysis of potential, proposed or implemented reforms that are based on the principles of modern economics and on lessons from recent cutting-edge research.

The editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse the opinions expressed by other contributors to the blog, the agenda of any political party, or the views of those who link or otherwise refer to the blog and its contents. Comments that do not concern the ideas and arguments published in this blog, but consist of personal attacks will be deleted.

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Grexit is catastrophic for Greece

The Greek government reopened the discussion “euro or drachma.” The real question is not “euro or return to the drachma,” but “euro or Grexit.” Grexit to a new drachma is not a solution, it is a catastrophe.

14 Greek economists published this statement in eKathimerini on February 20, 2017. This is an english translation of the original statement in Greek, published in Kathimerini one day before.

Statement on Grexit 2017 English Final

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Towards a theory on the causes of the Greek depression and its implications for understanding the Eurozone crisis

Paul-Adrien Hyppolite

Paul-Adrien Hyppolite (https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-adrien-hyppolite-71217ab4) is a graduate student in economics and a student-engineer of the Corps des Mines. His research focuses on international macroeconomics and finance. paul-adrien.hyppolite@mines.org @PaulAdrienHypp (https://twitter.com/PaulAdrienHypp).

October 10, 2016

The following text serves as introduction to the attached presentation summarizing the main findings of a research project on the root causes of the ongoing Greek crisis. Throughout the text,  there are references to the slides of a more detailed presentation.


Drawing on a new dataset [slides 7 to 21], I explore the sectoral dynamics of national wealth accumulation in Greece since 1997. I show that the Greek crisis can be best viewed as a balance of payments (or external debt) crisis driven by a real estate bubble and unsustainable foreign capital flows, rather than as a pure sovereign debt crisis. Thus, I depart from the conventional explanation of the crisis that focuses only on fiscal indiscipline. It is not a question of denying the fiscal slippage or even the role of fiscal issues in the run up to the crisis, but rather of highlighting the broader and endogenous macroeconomic dynamics that ultimately plunged the country into crisis.

Continue reading

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The euro’s leverage of competitiveness and its significance for the contrasting economic performance of Germany and Greece

Thanos Skouras, Professor Emeritus at the Athens University of Economics and Business revisits the notion of competitiveness with a view to its historical roots, draws a distinction between “essential” and “apparent” competitiveness, and applies the concepts to a discussion of Greece’s current predicament and reform programs. The full text is available in Greek, but here is a summary in English:

Despite the widespread use of the notion of a country’s competitiveness in public policy discussion and the regular compilation of an international competitiveness index by at least two separate institutions, there is a certain reluctance among academic economists in accepting the coherence and legitimacy of the concept. The reason is that it makes an odd fit with the economic theory of international trade. It is closely associated with mercantilism and, from Adam Smith onward, economics has consistently rejected mercantilism and the ‘beggar thy neighbor’ stance to which it leads, as an acceptable norm of economic policy.

It is, nevertheless, possible to salvage the competitiveness notion by distinguishing its useful integral part, which relates to comparative productivity and the intrinsic developmental potential of an economy, from its shady part, which is associated with exploitative mercantilism. For this reason, a distinction is made between ‘essential’ competitiveness and ‘apparent’ competitiveness.

‘Essential’ competitiveness is analogous to its usage in microeconomics, where it denotes firms’ relative ability to compete, and refers mainly to sales cost (including production, finance and marketing costs) but also to other elements, such as product characteristics (including quality, reputation and image), distribution networks, accessibility to markets and any other factor that contributes to a firm’s ability to achieve sustained profitability and do consistently better than its rivals.

In the case of a country, in addition to the above, it includes monetary and fiscal policy, as well as other macroeconomic policies and conditions, such as a minimum wage or incomes policy or even prospects regarding political developments, which can have an effect on the level of prices and in the financing conditions and borrowing rates. It also includes institutional elements, such as the quality and performance of the education system, the legal system, labor relations and the functioning of the labor market, market structure and the degree of monopoly, as well as any other institution that contributes to the country’s better economic performance relative to other countries sharing the same currency (or having a long‐ standing stable exchange rate).

In contrast, ‘apparent’ competitiveness refers to the ability of a country to compete in international markets with countries that do not share its currency, which depends not only on its ‘essential’ competitiveness but also, quite crucially, on the exchange rate.

A change in ‘essential’ competitiveness tends to affect the exchange rate in a way that causes the ‘apparent’ competitiveness to move in the opposite direction, so that the balance of payments is, at least roughly and over time, in equilibrium. But this is not the case among member countries within a monetary union. A change in ‘essential’ competitiveness of a member country (or a difference from the average ‘essential’ competitiveness of the union as a whole) cannot be counterbalanced by a change in its exchange rate, since the member countries of the monetary union share a common currency. Moreover, the change or difference in ‘essential’ competitiveness of a member country has generally limited effect on the union’s exchange rate vis a vis the rest of the world, since this is determined by the weighted average ‘essential’ competitiveness of the union as a whole. As a result, any change (or difference) in the ‘essential’ competitiveness of a member country within a monetary union is leveraged, in comparison to the outcome of the same change (or difference) if the country were not a member or were to leave the currency union.

An analogy from the world of competitive sports may be instructive. The handicap system used in diverse sports, such as golf or horse races, is analogous to the counterbalancing movement of the exchange rate following a change in a country’s ‘essential’ competitiveness. For example, according to horses’ relative performance in training and in previous races, they are saddled with different weights, so as to equalize the chances across all horses competing in a race. In this setting, a currency union is like grouping the horses of a stable together and assigning a single common handicap to all of them, on the basis of their average performance. Such an arrangement, would obviously grant the best performing horses of the stable an unfair advantage and, by the same token, disadvantage the worst performing ones when competing with other horses, which have been given a handicap based on their individual performance.

The leveraging of ‘essential’ competitiveness by the Eurozone may account to a considerable degree for the contrasting fortunes of the German and Greek economies. Germany had from the start a relatively high ‘essential’ competitiveness and strove to augment it, not least through an unpopular wide-ranging reform of the labor market. Irrespective of the arguable effectiveness of this reform in raising competitiveness, there is no question that Germany managed to preserve its ‘essential’ competitiveness and, with the help of its leveraging, to overcome the 2008 international financial crisis and establish herself today as the undisputed leading economic power in Europe.

In striking contrast, Greece not only joined the Eurozone with a very low ‘essential’ competitiveness but, within the first year of joining, practically the whole of her political class abandoned any effort to carry out the reforms needed to improve competitiveness. Being subject to negative leverage, ‘essential’ competitiveness further deteriorated leading to the effective bankruptcy of the Greek state in 2010. There has been so far strong resistance to the largely necessary reforms demanded by the lenders and little progress made. It should be clear, nevertheless, that a determined effort to achieve a significant increase in ‘essential’ competitiveness, which requires a radical change in mental attitude, is today imperative in order to overcome the Greek crisis and presents the only way forward for the Greek economy

Germany’s stance towards the Greek crisis offers no other alternative than the implementation of competitiveness-enhancing reforms and the Greek attempts at negotiation are futile and counterproductive. It is now quite clear that Germany does not fear and is not averse to a possible Grexit. Moreover, the protracted negotiations that Greece is intent on, only succeed in keeping Greece in a limbo state and, by causing potential investment projects to be kept on hold and capital controls to remain in place, they contribute to the further weakening of the Greek economy. At the same time, Greece’s limbo state presents a boon to the German economy, by augmenting the desirability of German bunds as a safe haven for southern Europe’s jittery capital, which is afraid of the potential domino effect of Grexit. An empirical study by a German research institute estimates that the benefit to the German state from lower borrowing costs, due to the fear of Grexit, easily exceeds the total contribution by the German Treasury to the Greek rescue. The total benefit to the German economy is even greater (though admittedly unevenly shared), if account is taken of 1) the addition to the German labor force of a considerable number of Greek medical doctors, engineers and other professionals; 2) the increase in “apparent” competitiveness, resulting from the euro’s weakening caused by the Greek crisis.

Posted in General, Labour market, Macroeconomics, Political economy, Product market, Public sector productivity, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Professor Georges Siotis, former member of the Task Force for Greece, writes on the poor track record on reforms and presents three examples of “win-win” reforms that never came to fruition.

He writes: There is no panacea to the Greek drama, but a route that would have been worth exploring is to identify reform areas that are “win-win” and that could deliver positive results over a relatively short time span. … To be “win-win”, a reform must be to the liking of the Principal and yield a positive cost benefit ratio for the Agent. In practice, the latter implies focusing on projects that involve few, if any, costs to local constituencies or vested interests. If these conditions are met, implementation could be closer to incentive compatibility. There are such reforms, but that have been partially (and often reluctantly) implemented, or not at all. I limit myself to mention three of them: the introduction of a well targeted Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI), the development of a fully fledged export strategy, and cost effective, incentive compatible ways to close the VAT gap in the form of a Portugal like “VAT lottery”.

Read the text here

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Greece & Europe: Beyond the Financial Crisis

Gikas A. Hardouvelis (University of Piraeus) gave a keynote address at the Harvard University Center for European Studies in the 2nd Annual Summit on the Future of Europe (September 22-23, 2015), where he addressed two main questions:

  • Will the Euro Area survive the next economic crisis?
  • Will Greece be a member of the Euro Area over the next decade?

The two questions are interrelated, as the Greek crisis has laid bare the faults in the architecture of the Euro Area and forced policy makers to address some of those faults. You can read a summary of the speech, written by Hardouvelis, here.

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The Greek NPL Issue and a Possible Resolution Path

Andreas Koutras argues that the creation of an Asset Management Company or bad bank that would acquire most if not all of the 100 bn NPL would be advantageous to the Greek economy the Greek banking system and the society, provided, it is structured so as to minimise political influences and hazards. The AMC would operate for 15-20 years, allowing for a smooth work out of the loans and maximizing recovery rates. The cleaned banks would be recapitalised from the private sector. The proposal would cost less to European and Greek taxpayers and can be an engine of economic growth. Similar solutions have been applied to many countries the most recent in Italy and can be adapted to Greece.

Read the post.

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Is the Greek Crisis One of Supply or Demand?

Yannis M. Ioannides, Tufts University

Christopher A. Pissarides, London School of Economics and University of Cyprus.

The Greek crisis is more difficult than just fixing debt; Deeper reforms needed. 
Greece’s low productivity and competitiveness will hamper growth. Even if Greece’s debt were eliminated tomorrow, the Greek economy will still not grow substantially enough to catch up with the rest of Europe.

While the Greek debt is too high to allow the government flexibility in its budgetary policies, Greece also suffers from serious structural problems such as low productivity and lack of competitiveness. Since joining the Eurozone, the Greek government collected less in taxes than it spent, the country consumed more than it produced, and had to import well above its exports. For implementation to succeed, market reforms need to be “owned” by the Greek government and public and eased in gradually to give affected workers alternative means of support in the transition.

Despite the availability of ample finance for this purpose and more than five years since the initial agreement with the Troika in May 2010 to free up competition, several professions continue to jealously guard their privileges, by restricting access to licensing and only slowly letting go of gross over-billing practices for services provided through public sector projects.

With sticky prices and barriers to entry the fall in wages and unit labor costs so far have contributed to the recession instead of reversing it. In such circumstances it makes much more sense to target first product market reforms, which would improve price flexibility and the structural competitiveness of the Greek economy. Labor market reforms are also essential but they can come later, when the economy is performing well and they are easier to implement. That said, wages did fall by over 20%, much more than in the other
EZ program countries. The associated fall in unit labor costs was consistent with the improved performance of exports but was slow to translate into a fall in prices. Wage reductions reflected in greater increases in profit margins rather than reductions in prices.

The Economic Adjustment Program has been a major “demand” force in the severe contraction since 2009, but there is also a “supply” force. Greece must further improve its competitiveness vis-a-vis its EZ partners, and debt relief in and of itself cannot address the competitiveness problem. That requires a targeted approach that involves structural reforms, especially ones that improve competitiveness in the market for goods and services and have long lasting effects through total factor productivity growth. Reforms are necessary to make Greece more productive, help it attract investment and develop forward-looking export industries. This will inevitably require deep restructuring of the economy, a process that typically follows crises, and is to some extent already under way in Greece.

Full paper, as presented at the Fall 2015 Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Conference, September 10-11, 2015. PDF  Full Brookings conference site


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Could a Return to the Drachma Help Greece Regain its Competitiveness?

Vasilis Sarafidis (Monash University) recently posted an article discussing the thesis that a return to the drachma would help Greece regain its competitiveness. His main can be summarized as follows.

The basic argument for returning back to the drachma is that the ability of a country with sovereign monetary policy to occasionally devalue its currency can help it regain its competitiveness in international markets. This article examines, with the help of time series plots, the effect of 3 distinct events of currency devaluation that took place in Greece during the period 1974 – 2001. It appears that currency devaluations have had only a small and short-lived favourable effect on the competitiveness of the Greek economy. By contrast, there exists a long term deterioration in the trade and current account deficits, which appears to be moderately halted in the short term through application of stabilization policies rather than currency devaluation alone. This is consistent with the popular view among economists that competitiveness is a structural feature of an economy and it mainly depends, among other factors, on the ability to exploit comparative advantages, which requires high productivity, business agility, skilled human capital, an efficient public sector that does not work to the detriment of the rest of the economy, and a fair and efficient tax system.

Read the post (in Greek) here.

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Capital Controls and Transactional Culture

Antonis Kotidis (Bonn Graduate School of Economics) documents that the recent imposition of capital controls led to an increase in the number of debit cards issued and in POS (point-of-sale) terminals installation. Although these developments are encouraging for the future of transactions efficiency and tax compliance, the available data on payments statistics over the entire period 2000-2013 shows contradictions in the transactional culture of Greeks and suggests only modest optimism.

Read the article here.

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Lower VAT can tackle tax evasion

Nikolaos Artavanis (Isenberg School of Management – UMass Amherst) argues, in a timely article given the current proposed increases in VAT, that VAT increases do not go hand in hand with tax revenue increases in the presence of tax evasion

In industries, where tax enforcement is challenging, the increase of tax rates does not necessarily correspond to an increase in public revenues. The reason is that these firms tend to “adjust” the magnitude of tax evasion to new policies. The increase of the VAT rate in the restaurant industry in September 2011 increased evasion by at least 9%, while the reduction of the rate in August 2011 reduced sales under-reporting by at least 9.6%. Taking into account the effect of the additional reported sales on direct taxes, the final fiscal outcome of the VAT rate reduction becomes minimal.  Read the article.

Posted in Macroeconomics, Public finance | 1 Comment