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Greece's Debt Crisis A True Tragedy

I hate writing about the Greek Crisis.

That loathing plus some visa issues contributed to my hanging up my microphone as a freelance journalist in Athens earlier this year.

This assignment, like so many others, is to write about the Greek Crisis – in 500 words. Can’t be done. There are too many moving parts. Nevermind the hours of gab time spent by talking heads worldwide — but only when there is not another major crisis such as the Arab Spring or Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster.

If you really want to know the background to what’s going on in Greece, read some of these articles: Vanity Fair’s  “Beware Greeks Bearing Bonds,” the Wall Street Journal's “Three Deaths in Greece Changed Course of Financial Crisis, SEtimes.com'sGreece’s Youth: I have no hope,” and Time.com's “The Greek Meltdown: Putting the Hell in Hellas.

Notice how many of these articles have demonstration photos that have little or nothing to do with the macroeconomics therein? Based on Greek demonstrations, Occupy Wall Street has little chance of achieving whatever its goals are.

So what more can be said about the crisis than is being reported everywhere else?

For Greeks, the whole situation has created a theater of the absurd. Incomes get slashed down. Taxes get raised up. And for most Greek families there was little extra already. There’s the 6% hike in national sales tax to 23% from 17%. There’s the asinine demand that all Greeks produce hundreds of receipts to justify their tax exemptions, which no one will look at. There are pay cuts and layoffs. All the while, the legal system is unable to keep up with complaints, including wages that aren’t paid at all. The only thing holding back tax evasion is that many people no longer have incomes to tax at all. Greece used to have large payroll and sales taxes but little to speak of in terms of property taxes. That’s been fixed.

Greeks were glued to the TV last week well after midnight to figure out what their Prime Minister George Papandreou, who speaks much better English than Greek (he was born in St. Paul, Minnesota), was going to announce. A referendum? An interim government? A unity government? New elections? Ultimately, the Greeks will get an interim-unity government followed by new elections, if Papandreou and opposition leader/ former Amherst College roommate Antonis Samaras can come to terms. In other words, this is Greek politics as usual, despite the initial referendum Hail Mary.

But do Greeks care about bankruptcy anymore? Can it actually get worse? How much more austerity can Greeks really take? Homelessness is rising dramatically. Emigration is slowly but steadily rising, hindered by family ties and the sluggishness of the world economy.

What Greece needs is to clear out its law books and keep the wheels of public administration moving long enough to clear out backlogs in every area. But cries of national sovereignty and the Greek penchant to strike over just about anything, plus cronyism, nepotism, and simple mismanagement make it impossible. To be fair, the Western recipe for dealing with Greece’s debt – gut the economy and hope the confidence fairy pays the bills – has done little to inspire confidence among the locals.

So what’s the solution? George Soros (who is not Greek despite the -os) has warned that a “disorderly default” could cause a(nother) financial meltdown. But look at it from a Greek perspective. If after two years of international news coverage, and almost three bailouts, banks abroad haven’t priced in at least a 50% haircut and the EU hasn’t figured out how to get Greece off of the euro, then there is little hope for Greece or human intellect.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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