Anil Kashyap from the University of Chicago answers a timeline of questions to bring your Greece literacy up to speed.
1) How did Greece get into such trouble?
Greece from the mid-1990s until last year was constantly spending more than it was collecting in tax revenues. For most of this time, the country’s initially reported numbers showed small differences that were subsequently found to have been much larger. The revisions tended to be most substantial right after elections when a new government would find that its predecessor was much more profligate than had been reported. Because of these deficits, the country borrowed to cover the shortfalls and its debt burden was steadily rising.
In the fall of 2009, a then newly elected government reported that the deficit for that year was going to be 13.6 percent of economic output and that the deficits in 2007 and 2006 were also larger than had been reported. From that point onward, the world began to wonder if Greece really could pay the debt that it had issued or needed to default. Its borrowing costs rose sharply and the country began looking for ways to reduce its required debt payments and end its borrowing addiction.
2) Wasn’t Greece already bailed out in 2010?
By the spring of 2010 the excessive debt problem became unbearable and there was open speculation that Greece would default. The country had done this on four occasions previously since 1800. Much of the government debt was owed to banks outside of Greece, with the largest amounts in France and Germany. So if Greece had stopped paying, the French and German banks would have suffered substantial losses.
Greece was lent new money in 2010, but as Karl Otto Pohl former head of the German central bank observed at the time much of that money was used to repay the obligations owned by the French and German banks. The new lending was advertised by the politicians across Europe as a rescue for Greece. But it was at least as much a deal to buy time for the banks and other owners of Greek debt to avoid a default. Greece did avoid default, but the support came with requirements designed to make sure that the country end its chronic deficit spending.
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