Published On: Sat, Mar 30th, 2013

Paul Krugman offers Cyprus solution ‘Seize Property and Print Money’

In answer to the “What would you do about Cyprus if you were dictator?” question, Paul Krugman has shared his Nobel-level of economic intelligence with the rest of us, and it comes down to two actions: the Cyprus government should seize as much private property as it can, go off the euro and print its own currency, lots of it. Krugman writes:

…Cyprus should leave the euro. Now.

The reason is straightforward: staying in the euro means an incredibly severe depression, which will last for many years while Cyprus tries to build a new export sector. Leaving the euro, and letting the new currency fall sharply, would greatly accelerate that rebuilding.

He continues:

If you look at Cyprus’s trade profile, you see just how much damage the country is about to sustain. This is a highly open economy with just two major exports, banking services and tourism — and one of them just disappeared. This would lead to a severe slump on its own. On top of that, the troika is demanding major new austerity, even though the country supposedly has rough primary (non-interest) budget balance. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 20 percent fall in real GDP.

What’s the path forward? Cyprus needs to have a tourist boom, plus a rapid growth of other exports — my guess would be agriculture as a driver, although I don’t know much about it. The obvious way to get there is through a large devaluation; yes, in the end this probably does come down to cheap deals that attract lots of British package tours.

Getting to the same point by cutting nominal wages would take much longer and inflict much more human and economic damage.

Part of Paul Krugman's advice in the Cyprus crisis: Seize property. donkeyhotey  donkeyhotey.wordpress.com

Part of Paul Krugman’s advice in the Cyprus crisis: Seize property. donkeyhotey donkeyhotey.wordpress.com

At one point he is correct in that the boom that Cyprus enjoyed by playing the role of bankster is over, kaput. (The biggest offender of banksterism, the government-owned bank Laiki, does seem to contradict Krugman’s belief that government usually is a responsible entity and only private enterprise is reckless.) But the party is over, truly over, although Krugman seems to want us to believe that Cyprus can avoid consequences by engaging in yet more financial tricks and that a Cyprus with its own government-issued scrip will be just fine.

By the way, Krugman (as a true Keynesian) believes that no one will notice that by getting out of the euro and printing its own money (and converting the deposits in its banks into Cyprus-scrip) that Cyprus has gone bankrupt. In reality, everyone there still will be getting a major head-shaving. We are talking about a currency that would be as popular in world markets as the Zimbabwe dollar at the height of that country’s hyperinflation. Imports would fall to near-zero, to be paid only by the euros and other currencies in the seized bank accounts.

In other words, we are not looking for a happy ending. On one side, Cyprus and its people could face the truth, take the up-front medicine, and then try to create a real economy producing things people actually might want to purchase. On the Krugman side, Cyprus goes on with its “let’s pretend” game of slashing real wages through inflation and continuing the Big Lie that the only problem there is a currency problem.

My sense is that Krugman’s easy solution might be less attractive than what he might predict. First, given the proclivity of the government there to seize the property of others, I doubt seriously that the government would offer a true market exchange rate when those hordes of British tourists invade Cyprus looking for the Good Deal. Instead, we will see the infamous Third World “dirty rates” that are notorious elsewhere.

Second, people who are the victims of outright theft — and that is what Krugman has been advocating — are not going to take their situations lightly. Tourists are not going to want to come to a place where mobs are pillaging and burning — and robbing tourists. (Well, completing the robbery process that would start when the government cheated on the exchange rates.)

The best way to avoid a crisis is not to create one in the first place. Booms created through monetary tricks and inflation have a way of blowing up, and starting a second boom to replace the first is not as easy as Krugman thinks it is.

Robert Murphy notes that Krugman’s “solution” is to “ignite a boom” in place of the boom that has crashed. Of course, Krugman does not come clean and tell us what will happen when that boom inevitably crashes. No doubt, his “solution” is to create yet another boom, but in reality, financial trickery has a way of being exposed and at some point, not only is the party over, but people who have been fed a diet of inflation become so addicted to it that they cannot and will not do what is necessary to fix their economies.

In the end, Keynesianism is not about long-term solutions. It is about monetary manipulation in hopes that something — Anything! — can hide the fact that inflation is destroying the economic fundamentals. But to the homogeneous-factors Keynesians, there are no fundamentals, just the printing press and government, lots of government. Krugman’s Inflation Fairy turns out to be a wicked witch after all.

Krugman in Wonderland 624

William L. Anderson is an author and an associate professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland. He is also an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as well as for the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.

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About the Author

- William L. Anderson is an author and an associate professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland. He is also an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as well as for the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.

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