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Greek Debt

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Greece is in a lot of trouble, and as a member of the “eurozone”, its troubles have now become Europe’s. In a sense, we’re getting a grim preview of the sort of future we might have in America with the case of Greece. Like us, Greece spent heavily over the past decade and accumulated a lot of “sovereign debt”. Unlike us, however, Greece is not a military bully – and thus cannot simply print money and force the rest of the world to accept it. Further complicating the issue is Greece’s membership in the European Union. No Euro-using country has ever declared bankruptcy, and analysts are busy falling over themselves to predict what a Greek government default would imply. Some of the most grim predictions entail the break-up of the EU, while the more moderate voices still predict havoc within the eurozone.

If Greece defaults, it seems likely there would be some sort of run on the European banking system, and almost certainly the Greek banking system. But more significantly, this crisis highlights the impossibility of leaving the Eurozone, once you become a full-fledged member. For many countries (notably, the PIIGS – Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain – the slowly growing Eurozone countries) this leads to a catch-22.

One one hand, adopting the Euro means a country can’t combat deflation via the traditional methods. Usually this would be done by revaulating its currency, but since no individual country has control over the Euro (well, maybe Germany does) – this ceases to be an option.

On the other hand, an announcement to leave the Euro (As Tyler notes) would trigger an immediate run on that country’s banks. Nobody wants their bank account in Euros to suddenly transform into a bank account in a less prestigious currency (lira, drachmas, etc.) Once a country gets into the EU, it pretty much has no choice but to stay.

So leaving the Eurozone would doom Greece – and staying in might doom the rest of the EU. What are they doing about it? Well, the Times splashed on its front page today that after weeks of nail-biting vacillation, the EU has finally pledged a “bailout” to Greece. (Under that article, in tiny letters, the headline: “Greek Civil Servants Strike Over Austerity Measures – giving us a taste, I guess, of what that bailout will cost.) But the point is that no one knows how this bailout will actually work.

At the root of Greece’s problems, and the EU’s, lies the vast difference in economic output between members. Though Greece and Germany use the same currency, their economies are vastly different. This naturally leads to over-valuation of the Greek economy, and, I suppose, under-valuation of the German economy.

It looks like Britain made a smart move after all, not adopting the Euro.

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Written by pavanvan

February 11, 2010 at 9:34 am

One Response

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  1. […] Go here to see the original: Greek Debt « The Reasoned Review […]


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