August 15, 2022

Some Greeks Fear Government Is Selling Nation

And then comes the mandated deeper round of austerity measures, which will slash the wages of police officers, firefighters and other state workers who are protesting in Athens, and raise the taxes of citizens already inflamed by a recession-plagued economy and soaring joblessness.

After winning a pivotal confidence vote on his new cabinet on Tuesday, Prime Minister George Papandreou now has an even tougher task: to carry out a radical remedy of forced auctions and fiscal austerity for a sickened economy already in a deep slump.

The European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known as the “troika,” say that is the only way out for a heavily indebted Greece, while some economists say the program resembles medieval bloodletting — a dose of pain highly unlikely to revive the patient.

Mr. Papandreou’s first task is to persuade his governing Socialist Party to pass a bill that would save or raise about $40 billion by 2015, equivalent to 12 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product, through wage cuts and tax increases, at a time when the economy is shrinking.

To put that in perspective, spending cuts and tax increases of a similar scale in the United States would amount to $1.75 trillion, considerably more sweeping than even the most far-reaching proposals for reducing the American federal budget deficit. And Greece has promised to generate another $72 billion by selling off prime state assets, which many Greeks consider a fire sale of national patrimony.

While the commitment to austerity will allow Greece access to a fresh infusion of international aid, a growing chorus of economists say that the government’s new program will at best delay default and a restructuring of its debt, which is already more than 150 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Steeper budget cuts and tax increases, they say, are the enemy of economic growth, which Greece desperately needs to make its debt burden lighter.

“You cannot keep on milking the cow without feeding it,” said Konstantinos Mihalos, the president of the Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in Athens.

In fact many economists fear Greece has already entered a “debt trap,” where paying the interest on its mound of debt requires more and more loans. “The Greeks have been told to accept more of the medicine that has already failed to treat the disease,” said Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London.

The Greeks have already reduced their deficit by five percentage points of the gross domestic product, “unprecedented cuts in a modern economy,” Mr. Tilford said. “But the cuts have had a much stronger negative impact on the economy than the troika imagined, and fiscal austerity has pushed the economy deep into recession. Debt can only be paid out of income, and that means growth.”

Greece does not have access to many tools to fight recession, like devaluing its currency or cutting interest rates, at least as long as it remains a member of the euro zone. Its monetary policy is controlled by the European Central Bank.

Some independent economists accept that Greece has no choice but to try a fresh round of cuts. Edwin M. Truman of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington said Greece had to go through more pain because it had run a budget deficit even before making payments on its debt, meaning it needed loans to pay off its loans.

Only after Greece reorganizes its budget, tax collection and labor market and is running a surplus — not including interest payments on the debt — can economists begin to calculate how much in debt payments Greece is actually able to afford, and then figure out how big a debt restructuring it needs.

“As long as they’re running a primary deficit, they need to keep tightening the belt,” Mr. Truman said. “Rescheduling now doesn’t relieve Greece of the burden of fixing the economy to create a surplus.”

Rachel Donadio reported from Athens, and Steven Erlanger from Paris.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/world/europe/23greece.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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