A Quick Snapshot of Greece’s Predicament

With Greece nearly certain to default on a 1.6-billion-euro bond payment due June 30, the long-feared prospect of Hellenic financial chaos is just about here.  The nation’s banks closed this weekend, and the government imposed controls of the movement of capital in and out of the country. A Greek referendum is set for Sunday, in which voters will decide whether to accept more austerity or face the prospect of being booted from Europe’s currency union.

Greece owes foreign creditors about 280 billion euros, including $242.8 billion to public or quasi-public entities, such as the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and European Central Bank. It doesn’t have the cash to make the interest payment due this week, and the failure to make a deal to restructure and refinance the obligation raises the prospect of an imminent default. The two sides are talking about an 18-billion-euro package to refinance some of that debt.

Greece’s private creditors took a write-down of about 75 percent on debt owed to them in 2012, but the public entities have resisted a similar move.  The so-called Troika of the IMF, ECB and EC are looking for a combination of spending cuts (the most politically sensitive of which are to pensions that function as the Greek equivalent of Social Security) and tax increases. Greece’s top tax rate of 42 percent already applies to annual incomes as low as 42,000 euros. In addition, the nation has a value-added tax of as high as 23 percent, and Social Security taxes are also much higher than in the U.S. The country is already having huge problems collecting taxes it is owed. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, pointing to the nation’s 25.6 percent unemployment rate, argues that Greece can’t handle more austerity.