Well it looks as though it wouldn’t be much fun being the next Prime Minister of either Greece or Italy right now. It is a poisoned chalice. Who wants to introduce austerity measures and remain electable? Any concerned citizen can see what is coming for New Zealand when our trading partners are in this sort of trouble.
Richard Douthwaite, the green economist from Ireland, has written the most amazing chapter in FEASTA’s book Fleeing Vesuvius. He explains the connection between declining oil supplies and the trend of rich countries to run deficits. Taking Ireland as an example, he lists the cost of mineral fuel imports, the value of exports and then works out the fuel cost as a percentage of export earnings. It rose from 2.4% in 2001 to 7.6% in 2008. Exports are the only means by which the country can earn the money it needs to pay the interest on its overseas borrowings.
He explains that a country that runs a deficit on its trade in goods and services for several years will find that its firms and people get heavily in debt because a dense web of debt has to be created within that country to get the purchasing power, lost as a result of the deficit, back into everyone’s hands.
After a careful explanation, one of his conclusions is that it is dangerous and destabilising for any country, firm or individual to borrow overseas and net capital movements between countries should be prohibited. This is rather startling, but when you think about it foreign capital creates problems when it enters a country and when it leaves the country. When it comes in it boosts the exchange rate, thus hurting firms producing for the home market by making imports cheaper. It also hurts the exporters, reducing their overseas earnings when they convert them into national currency. As a result, when the loan has to be repaid, the country is in a weaker position to do so than it was when it took the loan on. And managing borders obeys one of the laws of Nature.
The late Rod Donald, former co-leader of the Greens, used to go on and on about the balance of payments in New Zealand and I can see why. Both the National Party and the Labour Party seem to be taking our country into more and more debt. We have borrowed around $40 billion in the last three years.
Someone should work out our trend over the last few years. We need to find a list of the fuel cost as a percentage of export earnings and the ratio of total external debt to exports.