This weekend’s pushback is a quantum leap that promises (or to creditors, threatens) to change the world’s financial environment. For the first time since the 1920s the capacity-to-pay principle is being made the explicit legal basis for international debt service. The amount to be paid is to be limited to a specific proportion of the growth in Iceland’s GDP (on the assumption that this can indeed be converted into export earnings). After Iceland recovers, the payment that the Treasury guarantees for Britain for the period 2017-2023 will be limited to no more than 4 per cent of the growth of GDP since 2008, plus another 2 per cent for the Dutch. If there is no growth in GDP, there will be no debt service. This means that if creditors take punitive actions whose effect is to strangle Iceland’s economy, they won’t get paid.
Iceland promises to be merely the first sovereign nation to lead the pendulum swing away from an ostensibly “real economy” ideology of free markets to an awareness that in practice, this rhetoric turns out to be a junk economics favorable to banks and global creditors.
As far as I am aware, this agreement is the first since the Young Plan for Germany’s reparations debt to subordinate international debt obligations to the capacity-to-pay principle.
No doubt the post-Soviet countries are watching, along with Latin American, African and other sovereign debtors whose growth has been stunted by the predatory austerity programs that IMF, World Bank and EU neoliberals imposed in recent decades. The post-Bretton Woods era is over. We should all celebrate.