Posted by Matt Purdue
What a difference six years makes. In the summer of 2004, Greece was preparing to host the Olympic Games. By many accounts, the games were a great success. But now, less than a decade later, Greece stands on the brink of economic collapse. I wonder if the Greeks would like to have back the 7 billion Euros they spent to stage the games.
Alex Monro at Risk.net writes the best analysis I’ve seen yet of the Greek crisis, and what it could mean for the world economy.
As Jerry Seinfeld might opine, “So, what’s with Greece?” Essentially, most of Europe owes money to itself. Many countries are indebted to each other. Greece has taken on more debt than most, and can’t keep up its debt payments. The NY Times has an excellent graphic illustrating this tragic co-dependency.
For some time now, the Greeks have been asking their European Union partners to help them out. The International Monetary Fund and various EU nations recently approved a long-term bailout plan designed to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debts. Yes, Greece is using its MasterCard to pay off its Visa bill, but there’s little choice. A default by the Greeks would throw the entire EU into economic turmoil.
The problem is: Who’s next? Italy’s total public debt is 116 percent of its annual gross domestic product—and climbing, the nation announced today. Ireland’s current deficit is 12 percent of its GDP. And just when you thought the UK was safe comes news that Great Britain’s balance sheet may be in the worst shape of all.
(Note the difference between debt and deficit. A government deficit [or surplus] is the difference between what the government spends or borrows and what it takes in. Right now, the difference between what the Irish government borrows [high] and what it takes in [low] is equivalent to 14 percent of the value of all the good and services produced in Ireland in a year. Ireland is living like a subprime mortgage holder whose home is worth less than what he paid for it, yet who’s using his American Express card to finance a kitchen makeover. On the other hand, government debt is essentially the aggregation of a government’s deficits over time, plus what a government owes to everyone who buys government bonds and securities.)
Any way you slice it, these are dark days for Europe. This is what is causing so much consternation and volatility in global financial markets.