… The strength of the German economy in recent years has largely to do with its export success. But for Germany to run a large current account surplus – the consequence I would argue of domestic policies aimed at suppressing consumption and subsidizing production – Spain and the other peripheral countries of Europe had to run large current account deficits. If they didn’t, the euro would have undoubtedly surged, and with it Germany’s export performance would have collapsed. Very low interest rates in the euro area (set largely by Germany) ensured that the peripheral countries would, indeed, run large trade deficits.
The funding by German banks of peripheral European borrowing, in other words, was a necessary part of deal, arrived at willingly or unwillingly, leading both to Germany’s export success and to the debt problems of the deficit countries. If the latter behaved foolishly, they could not have done so without equally foolish behavior by Germany, and now both sets of countries – surplus countries and deficit countries – should have do deal jointly with the debt problem.
In that case it is strange for Germans to insist that the peripheral countries have any kind of moral obligation to prevent erosion in the value of that loan portfolio. It is like saying that they have a moral obligation to accept higher unemployment in order that Germany can reduce its own unemployment. Whether or not these countries default of devalue should be wholly a function of their national interest, and not a function of external obligation…This is why I find the moaning and gnashing of teeth over the possible erosion of the value of claims accumulated by surplus countries surreal. There is only one possible way to avoid that erosion of value, and that requires that the surplus countries work with the deficit countries to reverse the trade imbalances. If the surplus countries refuse to take the necessary steps, an erosion in the value of those claims is the automatic and necessary consequence. In practice that means that either the claims must be devalued or they will lead to default.