Be Careful When Betting Against Human Nature
Alliances are shifting in a logical manner. The German-French alliance is breaking down in favor of contributor (higher rated credit) countries aligning against recipient (lower rated credit) countries. Similarly, the terminology to describe who is reasonable and who is unreasonable reflects these parties' respective interests. Those who don't have to contribute use terms like "inflexible" and "irresponsible" to describe the contributors' reluctance to "do enough" to prevent collapse by lending more to recipients who can't service their existing debts, while those who have to contribute use terms like "inflexible" and "irresponsible" to describe the recipients' reluctance to "do enough" cutting of their spending and borrowing to service their debts. Students of human nature and deleveragings know that this is to be expected. Similarly, talk of a fiscal union to resolve these problems has to be looked at in light of the question of whether it is in the interest of fiscally strong contributors to have a fiscal union with fiscally weak recipients in which the majority rules how the money is divided. For this reason, we think the popular assumption that the Germans and the ECB (which requires agreement of the key factions within it) will come through with the money to make all these debts good should not be taken for granted. Said differently, we think there are good reasons to doubt that European bank and sovereign deleveragings will be prevented from progressing to the next stage in a disorderly way, without a Plan B in place. This "fat tail" event must be considered a significant possibility.