Web of Debt
December 22, 2009
[efoods]Europe’s small, debt-strapped countries could follow the lead of Argentina and simply walk away from their debts. That would shift the burden to the creditor countries, which could solve the problem merely by a change in accounting rules.
Total financial collapse, once a problem only for developing countries, has now come to Europe. The International Monetary Fund is imposing its “austerity measures” on the outer circle of the European Union, with Greece, Iceland and Latvia the hardest hit. But these are not your ordinary third world debtor supplicants. Historically, Iceland was settled by the Vikings, who successfully invaded Britain; Latvian tribes repulsed even the Vikings; and the Greeks conquered the whole Persian empire. If anyone can stand up to the IMF, these stalwart European warriors can.
Dozens of countries have defaulted on their debts in recent decades, the most recent being Dubai, which declared a debt moratorium on November 26, 2009. If the once lavishly-rich Arab emirate can default, more desperate countries can; and when the alternative is to destroy the local economy, it is hard to argue that they shouldn’t. That is particularly true when the creditors are largely responsible for the debtor’s troubles, and there are good grounds for arguing the debts are not owed. Greece’s troubles originated when low interest rates that were inappropriate for Greece were maintained to rescue Germany from an economic slump. And Iceland and Latvia have been saddled with responsibility for private obligations to which they were not parties. Economist Michael Hudson writes: