From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/13/opinion/13fishman.html?ref=opinion
By ROBERT M. FISHMAN
Published: April 12, 2011
South Bend, Ind.
PORTUGAL’S plea for help with its debts from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union last week should be a warning to democracies everywhere.
The crisis that began with the bailouts of Greece and Ireland last year has taken an ugly turn. However, this third national request for a bailout is not really about debt. Portugal had strong economic performance in the 1990s and was managing its recovery from the global recession better than several other countries in Europe, but it has come under unfair and arbitrary pressure from bond traders, speculators and credit rating analysts who, for short-sighted or ideological reasons, have now managed to drive out one democratically elected administration and potentially tie the hands of the next one.
If left unregulated, these market forces threaten to eclipse the capacity of democratic governments — perhaps even America’s — to make their own choices about taxes and spending.
Portugal’s difficulties admittedly resemble those of Greece and Ireland: for all three countries, adoption of the euro a decade ago meant they had to cede control over their monetary policy, and a sudden increase in the risk premiums that bond markets assigned to their sovereign debt was the immediate trigger for the bailout requests.
But in Greece and Ireland the verdict of the markets reflected deep and easily identifiable economic problems. Portugal’s crisis is thoroughly different; there was not a genuine underlying crisis. The economic institutions and policies in Portugal that some financial analysts see as hopelessly flawed had achieved notable successes before this Iberian nation of 10 million was subjected to successive waves of attack by bond traders.
Market contagion and rating downgrades, starting when the magnitude of Greece’s difficulties surfaced in early 2010, have become a self-fulfilling prophecy: by raising Portugal’s borrowing costs to unsustainable levels, the rating agencies forced it to seek a bailout. The bailout has empowered those “rescuing” Portugal to push for unpopular austerity policies affecting recipients of student loans, retirement pensions, poverty relief and public salaries of all kinds.
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