What can we learn from Greece?

12 May 2015 by Sushovan Dhar

The contemporary Greek tragedy of high sovereign indebtedness and the ensuant “austerity” measures have very few historical parallels. Ever since the debt crisis erupted, the infamous troika --- the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission — its principal lenders spared no time in prescribing austerity measures as the panacea for all evils and linked it to bailout.

These measures included above anything else deep budget cuts and steep tax increases. Additionally, it also warranted an overhaul of the Greek economy by streamlining the government, ending tax evasion and making the country an investor’s paradise. Even if we desist from reading the sub-text, we can’t ignore the impacts of these so-called austerity measures.

Austerity and debt

A study by the German Institute for Macroeconomic Research (IMK) affiliated with the Hans Böckler Foundation reveals some genuine benefits of the so-called austerity measures. First, there has been an unprecedented and drastic increase of poverty.

The poorest families lost nearly 86% of their income, while the richest had to part only 17-20%. Why not? Isn’t it common sense that the poor are poor because they are lazy! And, they don’t like to work and live off state-subsidies while the rich strive hard for each and every penny! Again, the tax burden on the poor increased by 337% while upper-income classes registered an increase by only 9%. The report also indicates around 25% income reduction of the Greek families, deep wages cuts, surge of unemployment, forced early retirements, etc.

There is no doubt that the poor, the low-income groups, the low-pension earners and even the unemployed had to suffer disproportionately, thanks to Troika Troika Troika: IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, which together impose austerity measures through the conditions tied to loans to countries in difficulty.

IMF : https://www.ecb.europa.eu/home/html/index.en.html
’s prescription.

The bailout that the Greeks received for being such obedient pupil of the Troika was hugely insufficient to take care Care Le concept de « care work » (travail de soin) fait référence à un ensemble de pratiques matérielles et psychologiques destinées à apporter une réponse concrète aux besoins des autres et d’une communauté (dont des écosystèmes). On préfère le concept de care à celui de travail « domestique » ou de « reproduction » car il intègre les dimensions émotionnelles et psychologiques (charge mentale, affection, soutien), et il ne se limite pas aux aspects « privés » et gratuit en englobant également les activités rémunérées nécessaires à la reproduction de la vie humaine. of the country’s need. Greece’s economic problems have only exacerbated. The economy has contracted by a quarter in the five years while unemployment is ticking above 25%. The bailout amount was utilised to pay-off Greece’s outstanding external debt rather than strengthening the economy. And further loans are required to pay off the earlier ones.

The rules of indebtedness and bailout are such that the biggest chunk of money from the lenders directly goes back to them. Leonidas Vatikiotis, a Greek economist alleges that 92 % of the 255bn Euro loans received by Greece between 2010 and 2014 would go back into the vaults of the banks and the creditors, with only the remaining 20bn Euro remaining for the Greek budget to cover the country’s financial needs.

According to Jubilee Debt Campaign, the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

has made a profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. of Euro 2.5bn by lending to Greece since 2010. If Greece repays the IMF fully, the latter’s profit could almost double to Euro 4.3 bn by 2024.

Let us look at the Troika’s macro-economic management. In 2009, at the onset of the issue, Greek external debt stood at 113% of the country’s GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
. With the Troika’s intervention and the imposition of the infamous Memorandum in 2010, the debt figures soared to 175% of GDP in 2014.

This is not the only shock in the whole story! The European Commission proclaim that: “Since May 2010, the Euro area member states and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been providing financial support to Greece through an Economic Adjustment Program in the context of a sharp deterioration in its financing conditions.

The aim is to support the Greek government’s efforts to restore fiscal sustainability and to implement structural reforms in order to improve the competitiveness of the economy, thereby laying the foundations for sustainable economic growth.” While in reality, the Troika loans were mostly used between 2010-2012 to ensure sustainability of the private banks of the major European economic powerhouses, starting with the French and the German banks.

Hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny — these three words aptly defines the Troika’s act. The banks had lent to an insolvent state and the Troika came to the formers rescue. These avaricious banks could dump their risks on the shoulders of the Greek people with the active help of this sorcerer’s apprentice.

Greek reply

Three months back, hope arrived in Greece when Syriza was elected on the basis of its anti-austerity program. This radical left party faces numerous challenges on its way to break with Europe’s austerity policies.

In this David versus Goliath story, uneven forces test their strength. While the Greek government endure a terrible liquidity Liquidity The facility with which a financial instrument can be bought or sold without a significant change in price. crisis, the Troika seizes this chance to arm-twist the new government and reassert its authority.

The Greek government has also resorted to a number of confusing announcements, sometimes contradictory. Instead, of refreshing rains in this bleak and arid scenario, the Greeks confront the Troika hanging like Damocles’ sword. While the long winter nights stretches longer, the Troika seems hell bent on punishing the Greek electorate for choosing the “outcast Syriza.”

Debt audit

This spring certainly brought some hope for the Greeks as we witnessed for the first time in Europe an initiative for debt audit with citizens’ participation. A committee was created by the Greek parliament whose first session was inaugurated by the speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou on April 4. The committee composed of 30 members — 15 from Greece and 15 outside — would establish illegal, illegitimate, unsustainable and odious debt Odious Debt According to the doctrine, for a debt to be odious it must meet two conditions:
1) It must have been contracted against the interests of the Nation, or against the interests of the People, or against the interests of the State.
2) Creditors cannot prove they they were unaware of how the borrowed money would be used.

We must underline that according to the doctrine of odious debt, the nature of the borrowing regime or government does not signify, since what matters is what the debt is used for. If a democratic government gets into debt against the interests of its population, the contracted debt can be called odious if it also meets the second condition. Consequently, contrary to a misleading version of the doctrine, odious debt is not only about dictatorial regimes.

(See Éric Toussaint, The Doctrine of Odious Debt : from Alexander Sack to the CADTM).

The father of the odious debt doctrine, Alexander Nahum Sack, clearly says that odious debts can be contracted by any regular government. Sack considers that a debt that is regularly incurred by a regular government can be branded as odious if the two above-mentioned conditions are met.
He adds, “once these two points are established, the burden of proof that the funds were used for the general or special needs of the State and were not of an odious character, would be upon the creditors.”

Sack defines a regular government as follows: “By a regular government is to be understood the supreme power that effectively exists within the limits of a given territory. Whether that government be monarchical (absolute or limited) or republican; whether it functions by “the grace of God” or “the will of the people”; whether it express “the will of the people” or not, of all the people or only of some; whether it be legally established or not, etc., none of that is relevant to the problem we are concerned with.”

So clearly for Sack, all regular governments, whether despotic or democratic, in one guise or another, can incur odious debts.

The major challenge is to analyse the Greek debt contracted from the mid-90s till date. It is important to verify the debts and ascertain their nature — illegal, illegitimate, odious or unsustainable. The Troika or its components — ECB ECB
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank is a European institution based in Frankfurt, founded in 1998, to which the countries of the Eurozone have transferred their monetary powers. Its official role is to ensure price stability by combating inflation within that Zone. Its three decision-making organs (the Executive Board, the Governing Council and the General Council) are composed of governors of the central banks of the member states and/or recognized specialists. According to its statutes, it is politically ‘independent’ but it is directly influenced by the world of finance.

, EU, European Stability Fund and 14 European countries lending money to Greece since 2010 — holding around 80% of the Greek public debt are for sure not very happy with this development.

Although the final call about the repudiation of illegitimate, illegal, or odious debt rests on the Hellenic government and not the commission. The latter could help them by auditing the debt and bringing out the truth to the Greek population and the government. The results can also help in creating an international public opinion which would certainly be very important in confronting the creditors.

The Greek government can look at the Ecuadorian experience for inspiration. The findings of the Ecuadorian debt audit commission set up in 2007 helped its president Rafael Correa to repudiate and renegotiate the terms of a large part of the debt deemed as illegal, illegitimate, odious, and unjust.

While the Greek government should look at Ecuador, could the governments in our region look at Greece for inspiration?

Other articles in English by Sushovan Dhar (51)

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