Where were the German regulators? As my colleague Bill Black has noted:
They seem to have believed that ‘What happens in Vegas (Dublin) stays in Vegas (Dublin).’ Instead, their German banks came back from their riotous holidays in the PIIGS with BTDs (bank transmitted diseases). The German banks’ regulators continue to let them hide the embarrassing losses they picked up on holiday, but that cover up will collapse if any of the PIIGS default. The PIIGS will default if the EU does not bail them out, so there will be a bail out even though the German taxpayers hate to fund bailouts.
German banks’ relatively high exposure to Ireland does pose the question as to whether there is some wild, Weimar-style hyperinflationista lurking deep in the heart of every German, only able to express itself fully when away from the prying eyes of fellow citizens.
All of the rescue plans that have been introduced in Ireland or Greece thus far rest on the assumption that, with more time, the eurozone’s problem children could get their fiscal houses in order — and Europe could somehow grow its way out of trouble. But the fiscal austerity being offered as the “medicine” is turning out to be worse than the disease. It has exacerbated the downturn and unleashed a horrible debt deflation dynamic in all of the areas where it was reluctantly implemented.
But here’s the thing: these fiscal straitjackets obscure the history of how we came to today’s horrible impasse and, more specifically, the German banks’ role in helping to fuel the credit binge. Also lost is the reason why this has metastasized into a far greater crisis: as part of the eurozone, Ireland does not have the fiscal freedom to come up with a sufficiently robust government response. The UK had a comparable real estate bubble in the late 1980s, which culminated with the Soros attack on the pound in 1992 and the ejection of sterling from Exchange Rate Mechanism (the precursor to the EMU). This was a blessing in disguise. Withdrawal from the ERM saved the UK because it allowed the country sufficient latitude to reflate. Yes, the country had a major recession (in many ways a consequence of the surrender of fiscal freedom as a result of joining the ERM in the first place), but there was never a systemic risk that posed a threat to the country’s overall solvency as is the case in Ireland today. And this is exacerbating the problem in Ireland because it persists in chasing its tail repeatedly with futile fiscal austerity measures.