Skip to comments.Nightmare foretold if Greece heads for euro exit
Posted on 05/20/2012 6:32:17 AM PDT by DeaconBenjamin
In Athens, the homeless are on the streets in growing numbers, soup kitchens feed twice as many people as a year ago, and the poor are diving into garbage bins in search of scrap they can sell.
Greece is close to breaking point as it struggles with austerity targets set by creditors, but this is just a foretaste of the nightmare of unrest, hunger and even anarchy that could engulf the debt-crippled nation if it is forced out of the euro.
If the exact economic impact of such a move is hard to nail down - newly issued drachmas devalued by up to 70 percent, runaway inflation, a banking meltdown, a collapse in trade - the implications for ordinary Greeks crushed by the debt crisis are even harder to predict.
Without international bailout cash, salaries and pensions would go unpaid and violence, political extremism and uncontrolled emigration could quickly follow.
After voting inconclusively for parties that opposed foreign-imposed austerity, including the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, Greeks head to the polls again in a month's time. This election is being portrayed internationally as a referendum on the single currency, even if Greeks do not yet see it that way.
A Greek exit from the 17-nation euro zone, or «Grexit» as some economists have called the once unthinkable eventuality, risks turning the nation into what would be close to a failed state on the edge of the European Union, one of the most prosperous societies the world has ever known.
Greece imports 40 percent of the food it consumes, nearly all of its oil and natural gas and much of its medicine. It has long been clear to some commentators that there could be trouble ahead.
Confronted with post-exit turmoil, foreign suppliers would simply put up the shutters until the situation becomes calmer, leading to acute shortages of basic commodities, which could fuel serious civil unrest, according to Bank of Greece Governor George Provopoulos.
Even if Greece did manage to import limited amounts of food and other basics, they would be cripplingly expensive.
Provopoulos warned as long ago as December that a return to the drachma would be «real hell», with Greeks forced to resort to barter during the transition period between the two currencies, «trading a kilo of olive oil for three kilos of flour».
"There will be shortages in basic staples. Without fuel, the army and the police would not be able to move their vehicles. After a long period, things will return to a better balance. But during the first transitional phase we would be experiencing a nightmare scenario,» Provopoulos said.
A former finance minister, Yiannos Papantoniou, saw trouble ahead nearly a year ago: «Greece would not be able to support 11 million people so there will be huge emigration flows,» he told Reuters Insider television last July. «Disruptions, social disruptions will come. I would say a regime of total anarchy."
Last year 23,800 Greeks emigrated to Germany alone, 90 percent more than the previous year, German data show and Greeks are queuing up to learn German.
Most economists agree the austerity measures Greece is laboring under offer it little hope of recovery near term, and some argue that if it leaves the euro, it could export its way back to health on the back of a vastly devalued currency.
But, barring tourism, it does not have businesses or industries that could drive such a recovery.
Even if freed of its debt-cutting targets, the fact the country runs a primary deficit - spending more than it takes in taxes - means it would have to continue austerity measures and, because it would be shut out of international markets, it would have no one to borrow from.
"Even if you strip interest payments, with a primary current account deficit at about 10 billion euros, it would mean economic life would grind to a halt,» said Yannis Stournaras, head of Greek think tank IOBE.
"Greece would have a hard time to import oil, foods, medicines and other primary inputs. Imagine the navy, police, without fuel. Natural gas spigots would close. GDP would be hurt by a battered banking system. Public debt would increase."
Greece's recent history gives a taste of the political turmoil that could follow.
After German occupation in World War Two, the country plunged into bitter civil war during the 1940s. Political turbulence in the 1960s was capped by a colonels' coup d'etat in 1967, with democratic elections not held until seven years later.
Conditions are already hard for business people in Greece, with the country in its fifth year of recession.
"The first shortages have begun to appear,» said Melina Ferousi, a businesswoman who imports paper and stationery items. «French and Spanish suppliers are still selling on credit but German ones are particularly strict and are refusing to do so."
Some German suppliers have said they could not extend credit to Greece even if they wanted to because their insurers are refusing to cover the merchandise.
Greek importers and exporters alike are finding it difficult to do business with foreigners, said Vassilis Korkidis, chairman of the retailers' union ESEE.
"It's not that they're not trusting their individual Greek business partners anymore, it's the Greek banks they no longer trust,» Korkidis said.
But business people do not see an exit from the euro as solving anything. Greece imports practically all its machinery, tools and software, so companies would be unable to grow.
"If we return to the drachma, nobody will be able to do business abroad anymore,» said Iraklis Megas, who imports animal food. «I'll have to shut down my company the next day and so will thousands of others."
How Greece would manage a transition from euro to drachma is unclear. A possible precedent is the split of Czechoslovakia into two countries with their own currencies in 1993.
All cross-border money transfers between them were halted and border controls were tightened. Stamps printed secretly in Britain were glued on 150 million banknotes, which were trucked around the country with the help of police and the army.
Greece would have to try something similar, with some suggesting euro notes might be stamped with a D for drachma, but there are doubts whether it could introduce a new currency in a short period of time.
"In my assessment, Greece does not have the strength of institutions to pull that one off in an orderly way. Instead, it's likely to be a slippery slope, which - through chaos and ruin - may then end the same way months or years down the road,» said Erik Nielsen, global chief economist at Unicredit.
In the end, since the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and euro zone governments are now left holding most of Greece's 250 billion euro debt mountain, they may decide it is best to try and keep things going rather than drop the curtain on Greece's euro dream and face heavy losses themselves.
That is the calculation being made by the SYRIZA party, which had until recently been surging ahead in opinion polls with its radical anti-austerity platform that European leaders say will lead to certain bankruptcy and an exit from the euro.
But a poll on Thursday showed a return in support for the establishment parties that negotiated the bailout, a sign the nightmare scenario of life outside the euro may be sinking in.
Some have even been able to see the funny side. «Drachmageddon», on Radio Arvyla TV in November, told how the drachma, kicked into outer space in 2001, crashed back to earth as a meteor and destroyed everything.
"The main reason we expect Greece to stay in the union is that as bad as things are now, it will be worse out," said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.
"It seems far too simple to think that a devaluation is all Greece needs."
Quote No 1:
"Greece imports 40 percent of the food it consumes, nearly all of its oil and natural gas and much of its medicine"
Quote No 2:
"But, barring tourism, it does not have businesses or industries that could drive such a recovery"
Quote No 3:
""Greece would have a hard time to import oil, foods, medicines and other primary inputs. Imagine the navy, police, without fuel. Natural gas spigots would close"
Include software, computers, raw materials etc....spare parts for existing factories.
“A former finance minister, Yiannos Papantoniou, saw trouble ahead nearly a year ago...”
Why didn’t he see trouble ahead when he was Finance Minister and, no doubt, contributing to the problem ?
Banker BS. The only reason Greece got bailouts because behind the scenes the EU and US bankers did not want to pay the price for making wrong bets on Greek bonds. So they spin the story that the world would come to an end if Greece defaults (just like TARP). Where did all the EU bailout money go? It went to the Greek banks so they can cover any money they owe EU banks. The people of Greece did not get any bailout except decades of austerity.
Iceland defaulted and went back to the Krona. Everything hit true bottom, prices adjusted to true value and investors are coming in. Iceland GDP is one of the few EU (former) that is increasing while most of the world is stagnating or contracting. We don’t hear about this in the MSM because the central banks and EU/US banks don’t want anyone to know except the bail me out or the economy will implode. This way affected nations will go to the central bankers and scream bailout and nations with the means to provide the bailout money think this is a necessary evil.
Greece should declare bankruptcy and return to the drachma. Greek people will suffer inflation and prices of assets will hit true bottom. Greek labor will be extremely cheap and foreign investors will come in to buy assets and even build factories and service industries to take advantage of the Greek low cost labor. Iceland already prove bankruptcy and going back to their national currency was not the end of the world. Only the EU advocates, central bankers and US/EU bankers don’t want it for their own political/financial selfish reasons.
To my mind there hasn’t been nearly enough focus put on how much blame for all this the Greek people, themselves, deserve.
I read somewhere today that tax evasion is the national credo, but everyone expects the government to provide for them.
The Greeks, it would appear, are a nation of takers who need other people in other countries to be the makers.
Now, how long is that going to go on? And how does leaving the Euro solve that problem for the Greeks?
And I reckon there is no acknowledgment of this within the Greek polity.
It seems they would have to change their entire world view to even begin to solve their problems. I don’t really see that happening. I suppose they will just sink into a morass of want and corruption.
“Remember the commercial back in the 80s about the guy who was justifying his use of cocaine?”
I never actually saw that commercial, but hubby always remembers it as being very powerful and true.
If I read history correctly, these things can go bad very slowly, bad very quickly, fizzle out... you name it -- in other words, no way of knowing. Aspects of this are unprecedented in world history, but that's not uncommon. Of course, we must keep in mind that one does not make history, as the phrase goes, one merely survives it.
Or maybe it's "HellExit" or "Hexit" for Hellenos.
Thanks for the interesting update on Iceland.
The Eu knew from the get go what Greece is about...this is no news to them and I doubt if they will let Greece leave the EU. It's all part of the show IMO. They'll continue to prop it up even if it does leave the EU. Greece is basically a welfare country...always has been the one to borrow and not pay...then cry victim-hood.
I would hope that the Greeks could perform as well as the Icelanders if Greece exits the euro. There is a lot of ingrained socialism and sloth among the Greek people. I was in Greece last summer and one of the tour guides admitted, without shame, that during the low season (Nov-April), the tour guides are heavily subsidized by the government when there is little or no work. Tourism is serious business and these guides are certified by the state and unionized.
Because European and American banks are joined at the hip, and because the Fed is the ultimate backstop for the Euro Zone, the contagion will hit here in full force a mere two weeks after Greece goes down and takes the euro and EU with it.
I suspect the derivatives problem at JP Morgan Chase is an indicator of this, and that $2B loss, which has grown to $5B, will explode exponentially when it hits the fan.
The same way that a small hole below the water line in a ship can sink the ship.
If you let the water pour in long enough there will come a time when the ship can no longer be saved.
Unfortunately, the economy of Greece is not the only hole in the ship. Like the passengers on the Titanic, the rest of the world is watching Greece, on one end of the ship, wondering if the same fate awaits the rest of the world at the other end of the ship.
But the european (and US) banks own tens of billions in Greek debt. If the Greeks default, the banks may fail. Which will lead to European Hank Paulsons predicting riots in the streets unless the European governments give them blank checks.
I thought the point of Hell is that it has no exit.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate
I don't believe that's correct.
Iceland has never been a member of the European Union, has always used the krona, and certainly was never part of the euro experiment.
Indeed, it's the opposite: Iceland has recently applied to join the EU (here's the timeline at Iceland's Foreign Ministry), and there's still some talk about Iceland joining the euro:
(yawn) The socialists have run out of other people’s money - - and run out of other people’s grandchildren’s money, too. Gee, who saw this coming. I think the people who flee Greece might want to think about migrating to California. Yeah, California would be the perfect place for them. They can meditate with the locals there.
The saddest thing is that we are in worse shape than Greece but our government doesn’t tell us the truth.Greece is at 94% spending of their GDP we just passed 101% of ours.Living way beyond a countries means has devastating consequences that we are about to see.I expect millions of homeless starving people abandoned children the whole she bang.It will be very sad to watch.If you have family there you may think about trying to get them out while you still can.
Why would Greece leave?! Greece is like a mooching relative who gets the keys to your house and cars and fridge.
Greece doesn’t have to leave anything. In fact, there isn’t even a legal mechanism available to kick Greece out!
Europe has to keep sending Greece money until they can figure out how to make Greece leave.
Anyone with a deadbeat relative living at home with them should be able to relate.
They're all gambling that the federal government will bail them out.
Whether its Democrats or Republicans in charge, I bet they win the bet.
Greece is a small country with a small gdp. But they are buried under unpayable debt.
That debt is backstopped by other countries with massive debt.
Those countries are backstopped by the ECB and the IMF.
The ecb is in debt.
The imf is us.
Our country is in debt something like 15 trillion.
The fear about Greece is that when they default, it will cause a chain reaction debt bomb that no one can pay back.
No one wants to be stuck with the bill especially the Greek bill, but more than that, no one can afford the Greek bill.
Meanwhile the european leaders and obama are calling for more govt spending backed up by more debt.
When the debt bomb goes off, it will affect everyone because all the banks are interconnected and inter dependant.
Some folks think that a Greek default will be a just a regional event.
The assasination of Archduke Ferdinand was a regional event.