The IMF owns up to mistakes, but EU accuses it of hindsight bias

Posted: June 7, 2013 in Europe, Eurozone Economy, IMF
Tags: , , , , , ,

The EU’s financiers responsible for the Greek rescue scheme in 2008 have reacted strongly to accusations from the IMF that serious errors were made in the initial bail-out of Greece. Maybe it is time that these deniers started being a little more honest with themselves and us.

Haircuts can be good things. Sampson may not have agreed with such a sentiment, but, on the other hand, we tend to feel better afterwards. It can be like that with sovereign debt too, but in 2010, the so-called TROIKA – that’s the organisation made up of the IMF, EU commission and ECB – thought the very idea of a haircut of Greek debt was about as sensible as turning the Acropolis into a new apartment block.

Plenty of people warned that it was dangerous, and over and over again we were told that the harsh terms imposed on Greece were not necessary. Now the IMF is saying it was all a terrible mistake.

In a report published yesterday the IMF said: “Not tackling the public debt problem decisively at the outset or early in the programme created uncertainty about the euro area’s capacity to resolve the crisis and likely aggravated the contraction in output.”

Of course this is the IMF. It is not going to wear a hair shirt, or be too vocal in slating its partners for that matter.

It said that after the initial bail-out Greek public debt “remained too high and eventually had to be restructured, with collateral damage for bank balance sheets that were also weakened by the recession. Competitiveness improved somewhat on the back of falling wages, but structural reforms stalled and productivity gains proved elusive.”

And, it continued: “There are…political economy lessons to be learned. Greece’s recent experience demonstrates the importance of spreading the burden of adjustment across different strata of society in order to build support for a program. The obstacles encountered in implementing reforms also illustrate the critical importance of ownership of a program, a lesson that is common to the findings of many previous EPEs. To read the report, go to Greece: Ex Post Evaluation of Exceptional Access under the 2010 Stand-By Arrangement 

A spokesman for the EU commission said: “We fundamentally disagree… With hindsight we can go back and say in an ideal world what should have been done differently. The circumstances were what they were. I think the commission did its best in an unprecedented situation.”

ECB President Mario Draghi has entered the debate too, saying: “We tend to judge things that happened yesterday with today’s eyes. We tend to forget that when the discussions were taking place the situation was much, much worse.”

Hindsight bias is indeed a real phenomenon, and maybe we are all too keen to claim wisdom after an event. Psychologists can even cite studies to show that we have a distorted view of our own history, claiming, or even believing we predicted certain events when in fact we did no such thing.

But on this occasion citing hindsight bias as an excuse is not good enough.

Plenty of media, including, but not only, this publication warned at the time that the TROIKA was failing to see reality, that it was punishing Greece unnecessarily and that debt has to be cut via write-downs.

The TROIKA ignored what was obvious to outsiders. To now claim it had no way of knowing; that we are applying hindsight bias shows it has not learned anything. It is, frankly, arrogantly ignoring what is happening around it, stuck as it is in an ivory tower, or wherever it is that these financiers live.

There is a lesson today. Still the TROIKA, EU Commission and grandees of the Eurozone claim that the worst is over; that the troubled economies of indebted Europe are on the road to recovery, and by doing so they continue to make fatal mistakes.

What will happen in two years’ time, when the IMF says that too much austerity in 2013 led to unnecessary human hardship? Will the TROIKA accuse the IMF of hindsight bias, and say it had no way of knowing this at the time?

Rather than denying errors, perhaps the TROIKA et al, should tuck into some humble pie, and then, just maybe they will notice they are repeating this mistake.

© Investment & Business News 2013

Comments
  1. Fact is the powers that be Beiderbecke,IMF,ECB, EU & of course the politicians have lost control of the Global Economy which, like a tornado that has run its course is now shedding some of the economies and financial expertise that it picked up.

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