Thursday, July 02, 2015

Payday loans for Greece

If you're a fan of international news where the only topics ever discussed on NPR are Israel, Palestine and Washington, DC, you might have missed the news about Greece. Greece defaulted on a nearly $1.8 billion payment that was due a couple days ago. Shortly after that, their leader, Alexis Tsipras, indicated there is willingness to accept most of the terms for bailout from the European Commission, the IMF and European Central Bank, also known as "The Troika".

There is some very interesting commentary that can be found on the internet on this topic. First, there is Joseph Stiglitz, a noted economist very well known for his progressive views. He notes that the terms being offered by the Troika are quite punitive and almost totally unnecessary. He also notes that the Troika has exactly zero interest in accepting part of the blame for the current situation with their austerity measures. Two very interesting observations also came to light: the money being paid by Greece to repay the loans is being used to support other banking systems in Europe and that same money will likely be loaned out to Greece again for the bailout. The same money being loaned to Greece will be loaned to them again? Isn't that sort of like a payday loan?

Some economists have noted that the current debt to GDP ratio of Greece, as a country, is about 177%. Supporters of Greece have noted that Greece isn't the only country with a very high debt to GDP ratio. Supporters of the Syriza government in Greece would do well to note that in 2013, Japan had a debt to GDP ration of 240%, but we don't see the IMF hammering them hard for their debt like they're doing to Greece. Funny how the IMF is not pressing them for reform. Maybe that's because they're running big trade surpluses.

There are even a few economists that are comparing the US to Greece and offering warnings that we could be in the same boat with Greece in the not too distant future. I happen to disagree, and I'm not alone. As noted previously, Japan at one time in the recent past, boasted a debt to GDP ratio of 240% yet their interest rates on bonds are still very, very low. No one is worried that Japan will default on their bonds. In 2013, that ratio for the US was about 96% and even now, treasury bonds are still selling at very low rates. The interest rate is what tells us how confident we are about the ability of a government to repay the bonds.

And more than one economist has noticed that austerity policy has cost the region lots of money and economic growth. Even Stiglitz has pointed out that the structure of authority in the European Union was designed to put workers at a disadvantage. It seems to be a backdoor to imposing austerity on workers and putting bankers in the driver's seat of the government.

There is plenty of talk about a "Grexit", where this weekend, Greece will vote on a referendum to accept the bailout terms or not, that vote determines if Greece will stay in the European Union. Even Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany - that country is one of the chief creditors to Greece - is insisting that Greeks have their vote and the time to do it. If Greece leaves the union, everyone else is going to feel the pain. Greece will be fine and should recover nicely from their experiment with the Euro. At least someone is willing to give them the space to make up their minds.

This might be seen as the first really big crack in the European Union, but it's not the only one. It's starting to look like a significant minority wants to leave the union. Adam Ludlow of The Spectator in the UK notes as follows:
"While the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has been doling out the conditions to Greece about what it will have to do to stay in the euro, one in three people from his own country want to return to the Deutschmark. The same proportion of Italians and French would like to see a return to Lira and the Franc. By comparison, people are most supportive of keeping their current currency in Britain and Sweden, countries with their own national tender and monetary supply."
Notice also, that the countries that retained their own currency are pretty happy with the union as it is. Isn't that interesting? The ability to maintain a reserve currency is what makes the US, Japan, the UK and Sweden so strong. The surrender of that power means subjugation to the entity that controls that power. That is probably the biggest reason yet why the Greeks are so likely to leave the Euro.
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