PIIGS Countries: A Public Finance Crisis or a Balance-of-Payments Crunch?
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Publication date: 2011-06-30
GNPJE 2011;248(5-6):69-84
The article examines the causes behind a credibility crisis that has hit a group of euro-zone countries collectively referred to as PIIGS: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. The author discusses the economic policy being pursued in these countries in response to the crisis. The credibility crisis is generally being attributed to high public finance deficits and significant levels of public debt in the PIIGS countries. But this interpretation fails to consider the fact that various other countries are also struggling with high deficits and public debts. In addition to problems related to their public finances, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain, are also suffering from an imbalance of payments. The high current-account deficits in these countries reflect unbalanced public finance-sector budgets and excessive private sector spending. The balance-of-payments aspect of the credibility crisis besetting PIIGS countries is obscured by these countries’ membership of the euro zone. This diagnosis is the starting point for asking a question about an economic policy aimed at addressing the imbalance-of-payments problem experienced by PIIGS countries. The widely recommended “consolidation” of public finances is hardly an optimal measure, according to Koronowski; nor can it be applied on a satisfactory scale, the author says. The best option would be to use an appropriate exchange rate policy, Koronowski says, because of the asymmetrical nature of the difficulties being experienced by these countries, including the balance-of-payments aspect of the crisis. However, such a policy is missing in euro-zone countries. In the absence of adequate national economic policies, the EU’s policy towards the PIIGS countries boils down to either explicit or implicit assistance granted by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and member states. According to Koronowski, this violates the underpinnings of the euro zone, undermines the credibility of the European Central Bank, ignores the principle of democratic control over public finances, and ultimately fails to effectively resolve the problem.
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