A number of articles from The New Yorker magazine have outlined the problems facing Greece’s anti-austerity party Syriza. The party came to power on the election promise of reducing Greece’s debt burden and to liberate Greece from the Troika – the ECB, the IMF and the European Commission. However the extension recently granted to Greece will take place only within the framework of the existing arrangement. The budgetary targets for 2015 and 2016 have kept the economy stuck in recession.
* the Greek economy has contracted by 30% since 2008.
* 25% of the workforce are officially unemployed
* 50% of those under 24 years of age are unemployed
* 40% of Greek children live below the poverty line.
Money has been flowing out of the economy leaving the banking system on the verge of collapse see graphic from The Economist.
As with the Keynesian doctrine, Syriza’s solution in to create effective demand by pumping money into the system. One economics professor at the University of Athens called it “pure Keynesian policies. The big question is where will the money come from although some seem to think that it can raise revenue from tackling corruption and tax evasion. The latter is widespread in Greece amongst the upper-middle class and the very rich – the top-most bracket of households and businesses are responsible for 80% of the total tax debt owed to the government.
Greece’s creditors were mostly European banks, which had, in part, used public bailout money following the 2008 credit crunch to scoop up Greek bonds. For example, French and German banks were on the books for thirty-one and twenty-three billion euros, respectively. The troika stepped in during the spring of 2010, and again in 2012, to orchestrate bailouts of the Greek government, offering two hundred and forty billion euros in loans in exchange for a drastic reduction in government spending and other measures to make the Greek economy more competitive. Source: New Yorker
The conventional wisdom is that returning to the drachma would be a catastrophe for Greece. There are pros and cons to this decision – the following would be concerns about returning to the drachma:
* An immediate devaluation;
* The value of savings would tumble;
* The price of imported goods would soar.
However on the positive side of things you would get the following:
* Greek exports would become cheaper
* Labour costs even more competitive.
* Tourism would likely boom.
* Regaining control of its monetary and fiscal policy for the first time since 2001
It would give Greece the chance to deal with its economic woes. Other countries that have endured sudden devaluations have often found that long-term gain outweighs short-term pain. When Argentina defaulted and devalued the peso, in 2001, months of economic chaos were followed by years of rapid growth. Iceland had a similar experience after the financial crisis. The Greek situation would entail an entirely new currency rather than just a devaluation.
This conflict is as much about the ideology of austerity and whether smaller countries will have a meaningful say in their own economic fate. However one needs look back in history to remember that in debt-saddled Weimar German, humiliation and dispossession festered until it a gave rise to the Nazi party. Greece’s neo-nazi party won the third greatest number of parliament seats in the last election.