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Greece

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Country summary

Capital

Athens

Borders

Albania 282 km, Bulgaria 494 km, Turkey 206 km, Macedonia 246 km

Government type

parliamentary republic

Population

10,737,428 (July 2010 est.)[1]

Population growth %

0.13 (2010 est.) [1]

Life expectancy

79.66 years[1]

Unemployment

9.5% (2009 est.)[1]

Index of Economic Freedom

73[2]

Corruption Perceptions Index

71[3]

Doing Business ranking

109[4]


Greece achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it gradually added neighboring islands and territories, most with Greek-speaking populations. In World War II, Greece was first invaded by Italy (1940) and subsequently occupied by Germany (1941-44); fighting endured in a protracted civil war between supporters of the king and Communist rebels. Following the latter's defeat in 1949, Greece joined NATO in 1952. In 1967, a group of military officers seized power, establishing a military dictatorship that suspended many political liberties and forced the king to flee the country. In 1974, democratic elections and a referendum created a parliamentary republic and abolished the monarchy. In 1981, Greece joined the EC (now the EU); it became the 12th member of the European Economic and Monetary Union in 2001. In 2010, the prospect of a Greek default on its euro-denominated debt created severe strains within the EMU and raised the question of whether a member country might voluntarily leave the common currency or be removed.[1]

Ancient GreeceEdit

In Athens, the constant shortages of grain and a need to import it from overseas caused its price to rise and fall according to supply. An army of grain inspectors, called Sitophylakes, was appointed to set the price of grain. "...to see to it first that the grain was sold in the market at a just price, that the millers sold meal in proportion to the price of barley, that the bakers sold bread in proportion to the price of wheat, that the bread had the weight they had fixed." When this and other legislative measures failed, the state appointed officials called sitonai, corn-buyers, who sought supplies wherever they could find them, raised public subscriptions for the necessary funds, introduced price reductions arid rationing. Despite the often used penalty of death for merchants and bureaucrats alike, the price of grain continued to rise when supplies were short and continued to fall when supply was plentiful.[5]

Solon, on taking office in Athens in 594 BC, instituted a partial debasement of the currency (there is some disagreement on this matter[citation needed]). For the next four centuries the drachma had an almost constant silver content (67 grains of fine silver until Alexander, 65 grains after) and became the standard coin of trade in Greece and in much of Asia and Europe. Even after the Roman conquest of Greece in roughly the 2nd century BC, the drachma continued to be minted and widely used.[6]

The Greek city-states were largely independent, though there was an awareness of Hellenic identity. Each city-state had its own coinage. There was an active trade in these currencies, and probably few laws limiting citizens of a given city-state to the use of their own money.[7] Debasement of the currency either for state profit or for the accommodation of changes in the ratio was rare in Greek history (with the notable exception of Dionysius of Syracuse[8][9]). On the contrary, there are cases of actually raising the standard of the coinage for the greater prestige which a coinage of high intrinsic value seemed to offer. In the sixth century B.C., the Euboean unit was increased in a number of cities by about five grains, in emulation of an increase introduced by Pisistratus in Athens.[10]

Banking, bank fraud and even banking crises were very well known. After the revolt against Mithridates, a serious banking crisis in Ephesus followed. The banking industry received here its first express, historically-documented privilege, which established a ten-year deferment on the return of deposits.[11]

Modern GreeceEdit

CorruptionEdit

Greece is notorious for its high corruption. It is one of the most problematic OECD countries.[12]

According to Transparency International, in 2008, more than 13% of Greeks resorted to giving "fakelakia" (or little envelopes), paying an estimated €750 million in bribes to public and private officials, €110 million more than the previous year. The amount equated to an average of 1,450 euros [US $1,850] in bribes per family. The majority of bribes, 60 percent of the total, are "related to doctor's fees, tax evasion and building permits."[13]

Financial crisisEdit

For years, the Greek government has demonstrated rather thriftless spending behavior. This was exacerbated when Greece started to pay lower interest rates on government bonds by virtue of having entered the European Economic and Monetary Union.

Greece's interest rates were subsidized due to an implicit guarantee from the strong members of the eurozone, who were expected to support weaker members in times of trouble. During the first years of the euro, interest rates on Greek bonds were thus reduced; they approached German bond yields. Greece spent wildly but paid interest rates like a much more conservative country. Meanwhile, the Greek economy and voting public adapted to government spending subsidized by low interest rates.

When the global financial crisis broke out, deficits of both strong and weak eurozone countries widened. Stronger countries had their own problems and people started to doubt that they would support the weaker countries in an emergency. Furthermore, the difference between the interest rate that Greece had to pay on its bonds and the rate Germany had to pay increased.[14]

In October 2009, the Greek government deficit for 2008 was revised from 5.0% of GDP (the ratio reported by Greece, and published and validated by Eurostat in April 2009) to 7.7% of GDP. At the same time, the Greek authorities also revised the planned deficit ratio for 2009 from 3.7% of GDP (the figure reported in spring) to 12.5% of GDP, reflecting a number of factors (the impact of the economic crisis, budgetary slippages in an electoral year and accounting decisions).[15] The deficit was later revised to 13.6%, with a possible revision of up to 14%.[16]

By the beginning of 2010, a discussion about the bailout of Greece has begun. However, Greece was already being bailed out by the rest of the union. The European Central Bank (ECB) accepted Greek government bonds as collateral for their lending operations. European banks could buy Greek government bonds (paying a premium in comparison to German bonds of more than 3%) and use these bonds to get a loan from the ECB at 1% interest — a highly profitable deal.

The banks would buy the Greek bonds because they knew that the ECB would accept these bonds as collateral for new loans (which depended on their assessment by rating agencies). As the interest rate paid to the ECB was lower than the interest received from Greece, there was a demand for these Greek bonds. Without the acceptance of Greek bonds by the ECB as collateral for its loans, Greece would have to pay much higher interest rates. Greece was, therefore, already being bailed out. The other countries of the eurozone would pay the bill. New euros were, effectively, created by the ECB accepting Greek government bonds as collateral. Greek debts were monetized, and the Greek government would spend the money it received from the bonds to secure support among its population.

Prices started to rise in Greece, and the money would flow to other countries, bidding up prices throughout the eurozone. Abroad, people would see their buying costs rising faster than their incomes - a redistribution in favor of Greece. The Greek government was being bailed out by a constant transfer of purchasing power from the rest of Europe.

In the Eurosystem, each government has an incentive to accumulate higher deficits than the rest of the eurozone, because its costs can be externalized. Consequently, there is an inbuilt tendency toward continual losses in purchasing power. This overexploitation may finally result in the collapse of the euro.

To avoid this, the European Monetary Union is regulated with the Stability and Growth Pact, and it requires that each country's annual budget deficit is below 3% and its gross public debt not higher than 60% of its GDP. Sanctions were defined to enforce these rules.

Yet the sanctions have never been enacted and the pact is generally ignored. For 2010, all but one member state is expected to have a budget deficit higher than 3%; the general European debt ratio is 88%. Germany, the main country that urged these requirements, was among the first to refuse to fulfill them.[14]

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet pledged in January, 2010, that it would not loosen lending requirements "for the sake of any particular country." However, credit-rating downgrades threatened to render Greek government bonds ineligible as collateral and exacerbate the crisis.[17]

Already in March 2010, ECB lowered its threshold for accepting debt as collateral.[18] At the end of April, 2010, Standard & Poor’s cut Greece’s sovereign rating to junk status, below the minimum BBB- required by the ECB from at least one major rating company.[17]

On May 3rd 2010, the European Central Bank has suspended the minimum credit rating threshold in the requirements for the Eurosystem’s credit operations in the case of marketable debt instruments issued or guaranteed by the Greek government.[19] That was a day after euro-zone countries and the International Monetary Fund agreed to extend an unprecedented €110 billion ($147 billion) rescue package to the debt-laden country.[20]

See also: The Great Recession

Economical characteristicsEdit

  • Currency: Euro (ISO code: EUR)
  • Central bank discount rate: 3% (31 December 2008)[1]
  • Commercial banks lending rate: 8.65% (31 December 2008)[1]
  • is part of the Eurozone


StatisticsEdit

Statistic / Year 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
GDP (million USD)[21] 134 408 125 558 131 032 147 388 193 465 230 757 245 797 267 479 312 302 355 876
Govt. debt (% of GDP)[22] 108.473 123.547 126.354 127.172 123.441 126.201 125.440 117.994 114.100
Govt. revenue (% of GDP)[23] 39.660 41.549 39.478 39.058 38.007 36.773 36.885 37.981 39.048
Govt. expenses (% of GDP)[24] 40.532 44.196 43.537 42.821 42.215 42.566 41.382 40.272 41.808
Debt to revenue (years) 2.735 2.973 3.201 3.256 3.248 3.432 3.401 3.107 2.922

ReferencesEdit

Note: statistical data was rounded. Different sources may use different methodologies for their estimates. Debt to revenue is calculated by dividing the two variables from their original ('unrounded') values. It represents how long it would a government take to repay its entire debt if it used its whole revenue for this purpose.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 CIA - The World Facebook. "Greece", from The World Facebook. Referenced 2010-09-21.
  2. Heritage Foundation. "Greece", Economic Freedom Score. A lower ranking is better; but please be careful when comparing between different countries or years. Referenced 2010-09-21.
  3. Transparency International. "Greece", Corruption Perceptions Index 2009. A lower ranking is better; but please note that the numbers cannot be compared between countries or years due to different methodology. Referenced 2010-09-21.
  4. Doing Business. "Greece", Doing Business 2010 (part of The World Bank Group). A lower ranking is better; but please be careful when comparing between different countries or years. Referenced 2010-09-21.
  5. Robert L. Schuettinger and Eamonn F. Butler. "Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls", Chapter 1 - The Ancient World, p. 15-17, referenced 2010-09-25.
  6. Encyclopedia Britannica. "Money", referenced 2010-09-25.
  7. James Rolph Edwards. "Monopoly and Competition in Money" (pdf), The Journal of Libertarian Studies Vol.IV, No.1, Winter 1980. Referenced 2010-06-26.
  8. Frank Chodorov. "Tyranny and Finance", from Mises Daily, December 30, 2009; excerpted from chapter 9 of The Rise and Fall of Society. Referenced 2010-09-19.
  9. Jesse Bullock Charles. "Economic Essays (1936)", p. 502-519. "Having borrowed money from citizens of Syracuse and being pressed for repayment, he ordered all the coin in the city to be brought to him, under penalty of death. After taking up the collection, he restamped the coins, giving to each drachma the value of two drachmae, so that he was enabled to pay back both the original loan and the money he had ordered brought to the mint." Referenced 2010-09-19.
  10. Elgin Groseclose. "Money And Man - A Survey of Monetary Experience" (pdf), Bimetallism and the Rise of the Gold Standard, p.146-147. Referenced 2010-06-25.
  11. Jesús Huerta de Soto. "Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles" (pdf). 2. Historical Violations of the Legal Principles Governing the Monetary Irregular-Deposit Contract, p. 41-51, referenced 2009-10-29.
  12. Stavros Katsios, Ionian University. "The Shadow Economy and Corruption in Greece" (pdf), South-Eastern Europe Journal of Economics 1 (2006). "According to these estimates two southern European countries, Greece and Italy, have an underground economy almost one third as large as the officially measured GNP, followed by Spain, Portugal and Belgium, with a shadow economy between 20-24 % of official GNP. The Scandinavian countries also have an unofficial economy between 18-20% of GNP, which is attributed mainly to the high fiscal burden. "Central" European countries like Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Great Britain have a smaller underground economy (between 13-16% of GNP) probably due to a lower fiscal burden and moderate regulatory restrictions. The lower underground economies are estimated to exist in countries with relatively low public sectors (Japan, the United States and Switzerland), and comparatively high tax morale (United States, Switzerland)." Referenced 2010-09-24.
  13. Lydie Gerboin, Transparency International. "Bribes in Greece", Transparency Watch, February 2009. Referenced 2010-09-24.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Philipp Bagus. "The Bailout of Greece and the End of the Euro", Mises Daily, February 11, 2010. Referenced 2010-09-26.
  15. European Comission. Report on Greek Government Deficit and Debt Statistics (pdf), European Comission, January 2010. Referenced 2010-09-24.
  16. Eurostat Press Office. "Euro area and EU27 government deficit at 6.3% and 6.8% of GDP respectively" (pdf), Provision of deficit and debt data for 2009 - first notification, 55/2010 - 22 April 2010. Referenced 2010-09-26.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Simon Kennedy. "Trichet May Need to Rewrite ECB Rules to Tame Greek Threat", Bloomberg, May 2010. Referenced 2010-09-24.
  18. Krista Hughes, Marc Jones and Sakari Suoninen, editing by Mike Peacock. "ANALYSIS - ECB collateral rule major boon for Greece", Reuters, March 25, 2010. Referenced 2010-09-26.
  19. European Central Bank. "3 May 2010 - ECB announces change in eligibility of debt instruments issued or guaranteed by the Greek government" , Press Release, 3 May 2010. Referenced 2010-09-24.
  20. Geoffrey T. Smith. "ECB Suspends Rating Limits on Greek Debt", The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2010. Referenced 2010-09-24.
  21. World Bank. "Greece: GDP", from World Bank Data. Referenced 2010-09-21.
  22. World Bank. "Greece: government debt", from World Bank Data. Referenced 2010-09-21.
  23. World Bank. "Greece: government revenue", from World Bank Data. Referenced 2010-09-21.
  24. World Bank. "Greece: government expenses", from World Bank Data. Referenced 2010-09-21.

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