“Had Greece been a country with its own currency, such as the Czech Republic or New Zealand, the central bank could have plugged the funding gap and prevented an abrupt collapse in spending. Membership in the euro area removed that option. The government and the banks owed debt in a currency the Bank of Greece could not print, and the European Central Bank was not keen on helping.
The textbook response would have been for the government to default on its debt and get a loan from the International Monetary Fund to help smooth out the adjustment. The amount of money required to buy time after a restructuring would not have been large compared with the nearly €300 billion that ended up being lent.
That option was blocked, however, by a coalition of Greece’s ‘European partners’ and the U.S. They were still traumatized by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and had come to believe that its default had made the financial crisis far worse than it otherwise would have been. The result was a firm commitment to avoid any reduction in what the Greek government owed.
Their concern was not about what a default would do to Greece, but about what it would do to them. […]
There was no political will in 2010 to spend hundreds of billions of euros to bail out Dutch, French, and German banks. To Greece’s eternal misfortune, however, there was enough ‘solidarity’ to launder that Northern European bank bailout through the Greek government.”
“Unfortunately, the EU’s projections involve extremely wishful thinking. For one, they assume an impossible level of austerity: Greece must run an average budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.4 percent of GDP for a decade, then 2.2 percent until the year 2060—something that no euro-area country with such a precarious economic history has ever done. Bringing those projections down to a merely improbable 2 percent and 1 percent, and using growth and interest-rate estimates from the International Monetary Fund, yields a very different picture: [Chart] […]
Over the next several decades, even in an optimistic scenario, Greece will have to borrow hundreds of billions of euros from private investors to pay off its official creditors. If those investors think the government’s debts are out of control, they’re bound to pull back—and Europe’s leaders will face yet another Greek crisis.
The obvious solution is for the EU to provide Greece with genuine debt relief. The sooner, the better.”
“This was a bailout? The word reeks of indulgence and implied disapproval. As it was often said, ‘The Greeks had their party and now they must pay.’ Yes, there was a party—for oligarchs with ships and London homes and Swiss bank accounts, for the military, for engineering and construction and armaments companies from Germany and France and the United States. And yes, there was a bailout. It came from Europe’s taxpayers, and went to the troubled banks of France and Germany. Greece was merely the pass-through, and the Greeks who paid dearly with their livelihoods were just the patsies in the deal. […]
So Greece, which is to say its creditors—especially French and German banks—received the largest loan in IMF history (relative to its ownership share). And that 289-billion-euro loan came largely from U.S. taxpayers. […]
But the damage done extends far beyond Greece. The cynicism and brutality of what happened there is for everyone to see. The fact that Europe imposed a policy of privation on one of its weakest members—not for its own sake, and not with any expectation of economic success, but to intimidate the Italians and the French, as the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble conceded to the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis privately in 2015—was not lost on British voters who chose Brexit in 2016.”
“In spite of personal appeals from the International Monetary Fund’s euro-supporting managing director Christine Lagarde to forgive Greece its debt burden and allow the country to be given a fresh start, the eurofanatics have been unrelenting in their determination to keep the debt anvil hanging around its neck.
Greece is in an armlock it cannot escape because of a combination of its debt burden and the fact that its membership of the eurozone means it can no longer devalue its currency. And the EU and Germans are determined to keep it that way to save their precious euro.
So despite the joyous news bulletins about the bailout yesterday morning, be in no doubt that this Greek tragedy is very far from over.”
“The Greek people have just lived through a Depression as deep as the Great Depression and considerably longer. It is now the greatest recorded peacetime Depression. […]
Despite all the pain the Greeks have endured to fix their country’s finances, Greece’s fiscal situation remains extremely precarious. The IMF staff predictions show absolutely no room for fiscal expansion, even though it is desperately needed, not least to relieve extremely high poverty levels. One in four people in Greece is living below the poverty line.
Greece’s government is critically hampered by ridiculously tight fiscal targets not of its own making. […]
In a few years’ time, when Greece once again faces debt default and Euro exit, what will the price of debt relief be? Well, unless there is a change of heart among Eurozone governments by then, the price will be yet more harsh spending cuts and tax rises, and perhaps another Depression. Greece does indeed have more pain to come.”
“Though Greece’s economy is growing, it is still only three-quarters of its precrisis size. Gross domestic product has expanded since the middle of last year, buoyed by an apparent renewal in exports. But much of the export growth comes from refining imported oil and exporting the final product — an activity that sustains tens of thousands of jobs, but does not filter through to the broader economy.
Unemployment, which has fallen from a peak of 28 percent, is still stuck above 20 percent, the highest in the eurozone. Over half a million Greeks left during the crisis in a brain drain that has hampered a recovery. Worryingly, poverty has ‘risen dramatically,’ according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of rich nations. […]
[The IMF] also suggested reducing tax rates that in some cases reach as high as 70 percent of a person’s income. The Greek government jacked rates up so sharply in the last couple of years that the country’s notorious black market has grown again.”
“‘As a member of the eurozone, Greece has lost the ability to implement an independent monetary policy. The fiscal constraints mean that there are very few tools left with which to boost economic activity,’ [Peter Dolman] said.
Referring to the 2.2 percent primary surplus target after 2022, Dolman said it will be very challenging to meet the forecasts of the European Commission’s Compliance Report in this fiscal environment. ‘At this time, we consider the realistic forecast for real growth in Greece is 1 percent annually. Our own research, based on the historical record, shows that a country cannot maintain a positive primary balance above 1.5 of GDP for such a long period.’”
“Greece is scheduled to exit its marathon bailout this summer after hitting the tough fiscal targets set by its creditors. But the country has done so by raising taxes so high that they are strangling the small businesses that form the backbone of its economy.”
“At a time of mounting uncertainty in Europe, Portugal has defied critics who have insisted on austerity as the answer to the Continent’s economic and financial crisis. While countries from Greece to Ireland — and for a stretch, Portugal itself — toed the line, Lisbon resisted, helping to stoke a revival that drove economic growth last year to its highest level in a decade. […]
Voters ushered Mr. [António] Costa, a center-left leader, into power in late 2015 after he promised to reverse cuts to their income, which the previous government had approved to reduce Portugal’s high deficit under the terms of an international bailout of 78 billion euros, or $90 billion. Mr. Costa formed an unusual alliance with Communist and radical-left parties, which had been shut out of power since the end of Portugal’s dictatorship in 1974. They united with the goal of beating back some of the toughest aspects of austerity, while balancing the books to meet eurozone rules.
The government raised public sector salaries, the minimum wage and pensions and even restored the amount of vacation days to prebailout levels over objections from creditors like Germany and the International Monetary Fund. […]
The economic about-face had a remarkable impact on Portugal’s collective psyche. While discouragement lingers in Greece after a decade of spending cuts, Portugal’s recovery has pivoted around restoring confidence to get people and businesses motivated again.”
“Arguments for privatization aside, the deadly combination of higher debt and declining GDP had most economists convinced quite early on that austerity was killing Greece’s economy, and that a debt write-off would be at some point absolutely necessary for medium- and long-term recovery. However, Germany and its northern European allies had diametrically opposed this idea, insisting on even stronger doses of austerity, while balking at the prospect of a debt write-off.
At the same time, the idea of Greece exiting the euro was also an anathema to Germany and the eurocrats in Brussels. Keeping Greece in the Eurozone—even while its economy and society were going to bleed to death as a result of harsh austerity measures—was deemed absolutely imperative for the very survival of the euro, and for ensuring that all previous debts to European banks were going to be repaid. […]
In contrast to Tsipras’s outrageous claim that the debt deal represents a ‘historic’ agreement, in that it allows Greece to become a ‘normal country’ once again, the measures agreed on to make Greece’s debt sustainable will doom the country into becoming a permanent semi-peripheral debt colony of the EU. The deal simply pushes the debt into the very distant future, and locks society into a state of perpetual austerity by requiring that the government run exceedingly large primary budget surpluses. The deal is not a cause of celebration for Greece but, rather, a kiss of death. […]
At this point, with full budget surpluses running in the range of 5.3 percent (until 2022) and even 4 percent (from 2023-2060), ‘severe’ is not the right word to describe the level of austerity that will need to be enforced on the Greek population. A more apt term is ‘brutal’ austerity […]”