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The Greeks Are Being Unfairly Maligned by Global Financiers: The Truth Is Very Different

Beyond the anti-Greek media campaign lies the story of a weary people caught between a corrupt political system and rapacious financiers. Sound familiar?

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God of the Winds

The shit hit the fan in 2008. Everybody looked around and said, “Who the hell is going to pay off these debts?” The banks saw big money heading out the door. According to the bible of neoliberal economics, this can’t happen. Human beings and societies are one thing. But banks must be saved at all costs.

When the Greek government changed hands in October 2009, the books were opened and it became obvious that there was a much bigger deficit than anyone thought. Investors ran for the hills. Interest rates shot up. In November, just three months before the Greeks became the epicenter of the European economic crisis, the wizards of Wall Street were back on the scene in Athens, trying to peddle more deals that would allow debt to magically vanish. The New York Times summed up the banks’ role in the crisis:

“As in the American subprime crisis and the implosion of the American International Group, financial derivatives played a role in the run-up of Greek debt. Instruments developed by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and a wide range of other banks enabled politicians to mask additional borrowing in Greece, Italy and possibly elsewhere.

"In dozens of deals across the Continent, banks provided cash upfront in return for government payments in the future, with those liabilities then left off the books. Greece, for example, traded away the rights to airport fees and lottery proceeds in years to come…Some of the Greek deals were named after figures in Greek mythology. One of them, for instance, was called Aeolos, after the god of the winds.”

With evil financial winds gaining hurricane force, it became clear that Greece would need a whole lot of money if the bankers were going to get paid back. They jumped on the austerity train to nowhere– chasing their tails by making draconian cuts, which only increased their deficits, and then having to ask the EU for more money. Public workers were fired to pay the banks. Pensions were slashed to pay the banks. But there still wasn’t enough money to pay the banks.

If you’re a country that has your own sovereign currency – like the U.S. – then you have some options in this situation. You can do monetary expansion to head off deflation, for example, and devalue your currency. But once Greece went on the euro, it say good-bye to such options. So it cut, and cut, and cut, and now it’s going bankrupt anyway. The country is mired in falling income, rising deficits, and sinks even further. It’s in the Herbert Hoover death spiral.

Meanwhile, members of the EU are flipping out. Contributions to the bailout agreed to in July are supposed to be proportional to a country’s economic status, and thus the Germans have the biggest chunk to fork over. They are not keen on the notion of doing so in order for the Greek and French banks to get paid. Hey, they’re thinking, wouldn’t it be cheaper to recapitalize our own banks directly? The French are really flipping out, because after the Greek banks, their banks are holding the biggest hordes of Greek debt. They’re worried about their credit ratings. The bailout decision has been postponed until mid-November so everybody can fight it out.

The realization is dawning that this shitstorm is too big, and that the Greeks can’t fix themselves. So they may have to go bust. And if Greece goes bust, that means the Greek debt will be written down, maybe half of it. Which means the Greeks would only owe half the money they currently owe to the banks. And because these banks were in crap shape anyway, despite their phony stress tests, the possibility of cascading defaults rises.

 
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