Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Greece Crisis and Wall Street

It's not yet clear how the Greek debt crisis is going to be addressed by the European Union - the rumors shifted back and forth during the week.

Greece's outstanding sovereign debts are approximately $300 billion.

In an article in this morning's Times (here), Louise Story and others report that Wall Street banks are partly to blame for enabling Greece to borrow too much:

As in the American subprime crisis and the implosion of the American International Group, financial derivatives played a role in the run-up of Greek debt. Instruments developed by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and a wide range of other banks enabled politicians to mask additional borrowing in Greece, Italy and possibly elsewhere. In dozens of deals across the Continent, banks provided cash upfront in return for government payments in the future, with those liabilities then left off the books. Greece, for example, traded away the rights to airport fees and lottery proceeds in years to come.

This is yet another example of too much debt coming back to bite us.

420. Are there any countries that are not huge debt spenders? Or is it always in a nation's national interest to spur internal economic growth, which means incurring debt whenever necessary? What's the most fiscally conservative country in the world?

421. Frank Rich has an article this morning criticizing Obama and the Democrats for letting Sarah Palin steal the populist, angry-at-the-banks thunder (Obama made some really tone-deaf comments supportive of bank CEO's this week). When -- if ever -- is Obama going to take some action that truly tries to rein in Wall Street excess?

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