The Corner

Greek Mythology

Anyone who lived in Greece in the pre-EU days and compared that era to the booming present might — both empirically and in anecdotal fashion — wager that Greece will never, never pay back what it owes.

The country’s former, rather modest infrastructure, along with its hotels, private homes, ships, ferries, and transportation, used to reflect Greece’s relaxed culture — one of siestas, plentiful holidays, a bloated civil service, chronic tax avoidance, Byzantine and neglected regulations, and an avrio atmosphere — one that could not possibly translate into the extravagant second homes, new infrastructure, luxury hotels, and upscale shops that one now sees everywhere in Greece.

All of this suggests that much of the boom of the last 20 years was predicated on borrowed, cheap-interest Northern European money, together with an expectation that the tourist boom would continue without end. That was supposed to subsidize a level of consumption that was not sustained by commensurate evidence of Greek productivity, healthy demography, or a pro-business atmosphere.

In other words, I don’t see how Greeks will ever pay back what they owe.

At some point, the holders of bonds wagered that either (a) tourism would continue to grow geometrically, (b) the Greeks would someday adopt Germanic notions of work, savings, and retirement, or (c) the Germans would ultimately accept that conservative Bavarians would have to pay for the liberal lifestyle of others as the price of protecting their formerly lucrative notion of the euro. And sooner or later, those bondholders may well have to eat their wager when Greece defaults in Argentinian style.

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