El siguiente texto es la transcripción de la entrevista que Fareed Zakaria, conductor de CNN, hizo para su programa GPS, the Global Public Square, al destacado historiador económico de Harvard Niall Ferguson, quien da su particular y experta visión sobre lo que sucede en Grecia y cómo será su salida del euro un domingo por la noche.
With all the economic difficulties on the horizon today, most people agree the single biggest threat to the world economy is the deepening of the European crisis and the most likely form it would take is a “Grexit.” That’s Wall Street’s contraction of “Greece” and “exit and it refers to the Greek government departing from the euro.
Some has been written about it, about when it will happen, but every little thought has been given to how it might happen and what would happen next where it happen. For that, I turn to an old friend of GPS, Niall Ferguson, the great Harvard historian.
Welcome back, Niall.
NIALL FERGUSON, HARVARD: It’s nice to be back.
ZAKARIA: So, first, let’s just talk about the mechanics and, then, we’ll talk about the broader problem.
So, let’s say, at some point, either the Greeks or the Europeans, or some combination of the two, decided that there simply was no way to make the math work, that Greece was never going to pay its loans and the Greek government decides the best thing for us is to get out of this European currency, adopt — readopt the drachma and devalue it.
How would do it? What could they do? Do we have any historical example?
FERGUSON: It’s hard to do. One reason it hasn’t happened yet is this is much harder than leaving an exchange rate mechanism, which is what the Europeans used to have or a gold standard, which is what we had right up until the 1930s.
Because it’s not just about the bank notes and the coins, those would have to be changed. Much more importantly, it’s about what’s in the banks because most money is, in fact, in bank accounts rather than in people’s pockets or under their beds.
ZAKARIA: In digital form.
FERGUSON: Exactly. And so what you would be talking about would be an announcement, presumably on a Sunday night, along the lines of news just in, those euros that you have in your bank from tomorrow, will be drachma. There’ll be a little bit of a teething problem because the ATMs won’t work for a few days while we get the drachmas into place, but don’t panic. There’s going to be a bank holiday until, let’s say, Thursday.
Now, just think what that would do not only in Greece, where there would be pandemonium, there would be pandemonium throughout Europe because if one country leaves — and this is an argument which I’ve heard again and again traveling through Europe over the past few months.
If one country leaves, the question is whose next? So for one country to leave wouldn’t just be hugely disruptive to its banking system, it would be disruptive to the entire European banking system.
ZAKARIA: So, if it were to happen, presumably the argument would be, again, just mechanically, all those bank accounts where you have euros have now been digitally converted to drachmas, but your bank notes will have to be restamped or something like that.
Where, you know, in the old — when the Habsburg currency collapsed, they actually had people come in with the old Habsburg money and they would stamp on it this is now Romanian money or whatever it was.
FERGUSON: That’s actually what happened at the end of the First World War when the great monetary union that was the Habsburg Empire fell apart. We’ve come a long way since then. Much less money is in the form of bank notes, much more is in bank accounts.
And it’s not just about converting the notes and coins, that’s doable though it’s clunky and difficult. The big problem is what you do with outstanding debts. I mean if you owe somebody money, does it suddenly go from being a euro debt into being a drachma debt and at what rate because, of course, everything hinges on the drachma being a weak currency.
The whole idea behind doing this would be to help the Greeks out of a hole with a devaluation. So from the point of view of anybody who owes money in euros inside Greece, this would be Christmas coming early because suddenly those debts would be worth a whole lot less.
From the other point of view, from the creditors point of view, this would be a disaster. So it’s not just disruptive in terms of payments, it’s hugely disruptive in terms of relationships between creditors and debtors.
And we haven’t even got on to the cross-border debts, the money that Greeks owe to other Europeans. Would that stay in euros or would that become drachmas? It’s really a can of worms crossed with Pandora’s Box at this point.
ZAKARIA: I’ve rarely heard you mix metaphors before so it must be seriously (inaudible)…
FERGUSON: It really does. ZAKARIA: Now, let’s talk about the part that seems really scary which is the spillover. So the problem is that this happens in Greece and, all of the sudden, people look around and say wait a minute, maybe not all euros are created equal and I’m just going to be safe.
I’m going to put my money in the one country that isn’t going to default and that’s Germany. Is that what you — is that your fear?
FERGUSON: We’ve already seen tendencies of this kind. I was in Barcelona just a few weeks ago. Everybody, from the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport to my editor, was asking me should I move my money out of a Spanish bank and into a German bank?
And that’s an option. It’s not an easy to do. It involves a certain amount of hassle, but it’s doable. That’s the nature of monetary union.
The moment people fear that tomorrow their euros are going to be pesetas in the Spanish case, they start to think to themselves well I would rather have something that will be a Deutsche Mark the day after tomorrow if this whole thing is going down.
So what we started to see last month was people moving their money out of Spanish banks and into German banks. It wasn’t a fully fledged bank run. Some people called it a “bank job” because it didn’t reach epidemic proportions and there weren’t lines in the street.
But the fact that that could happen is, I think, one reason why this hasn’t yet taken place. It wasn’t so much that the Germans relented and said, you know, OK, we’ll cut the Greeks one more break.
It was more that it was explained to the German government, look, if you kick the Greeks out or get them to kick themselves out, there’s going to be a contagion effect that will go straight round the Mediterranean, will come to Spain and could ultimately end up affecting France too.
And that, I think, is the reason why this monetary union is still hanging together because the cost of dismantling it is incredibly high.
ZAKARIA: President Obama is watching all this and, clearly, the single most important factor in the last three months, in terms of the weakening U.S. economy, must be the slowdown in Europe, the fears that come out of Europe.
Are they going to abate or in the next four to five months, as we approach the U.S. election, are we going to see more of the same, indeed, perhaps a little bit more crisis?
FERGUSON: Well, luckily, Europeans take very long summer holidays and not much is going to happen that will be newsworthy, I suspect, between now and Labor Day. On the other hand, the uncertainty will linger on during the dog days of summer. And let’s not forget the fiscal cliff that the United States is heading towards regardless of the European crisis. No, the macro- economic outlook is not great for President Obama. It’s very hard to believe that anything is going to happen in Europe that’s going to improve matters before November.
And that’s why, of course, he’s beating up on Mitt Romney’s career in private equity in the desperate hope of distracting American voters from the reality that the U.S. economy is slowing down and, indeed, the world economy is slowing down.
ZAKARIA: Niall Ferguson, as always, pleasure to have you on.
FERGUSON: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back.