Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gyro Meat

The Right, never missing an opportunity to take the low-road, is trying to give inertia to a "talking point" connecting a nanny state and the debt/insolvency problems of Greece (along with some other European countries: Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain). As usual, reality doesn't support this privatized, market-humping meme.

The problem primarily stems from these countries following a laissez-faire, highly speculative, highly leveraged, American economic model. A consumption-based growth, fueled by easy credit. Buy now, pay later. And, of course, Wall Street was pulling strings behind the curtain.

With easy money allowing everyone to live beyond their means, purchasing an unsustainable lifestyle, on credit. Thus, giving the illusion of prosperity. The whole global system is in jeopardy. We have spent the last few decades spending on iPhones and SUVs, rather than on sewage systems, public transportation, and energy alternatives. This is a problem of priorities and tax avoidance, not of overly compensated public workers.

As Peter Boone and Simon Johnson assert, "The main problem that Portugal faces, like Greece, Ireland and Spain, is that it is stuck with a highly overvalued exchange rate when it is in need of massive fiscal adjustment." Doug Henwood saw the 'EU problem' in 1998 when the European Union, and a single currency among its member countries, was being created.

Unemployment in the EU's highly indebted countries is: Spain 20%; Ireland 14%; Greece 10%, Portugal 9%; and Italy 8.7%. As of this writing U.S. unemployment is 9.9%.

Public debt as a percent of GDP is: Greece 124.9; Italy 116.7; Portugal 84.6; Ireland 82.9; Spain 66.3. Presently, the U.S. public debt is 67.1 % of GDP. (In Japan it's 105%; Germany 70%; and France 67%.)

Luckily, as Paul Krugman explains, the U.S. is not Greece. He also, like Boone and Johnson, concludes that, "If Greece still had its own currency, it could restore competitiveness through devaluation."

Concerning other talking points regarding Greece, some data needs to be introduced into the discussion. The average Greek worker logs the second highest hours per year among 33 OECD countries. The average age of retirement in Greece is 61.4 years, slightly higher than the European average of 61.1 years. And, the average Greek pension is $990 per month. The average pension in other EU countries: Spain $1,176; Ireland $2,105; Belgium $3,466; and the Netherlands $3,962. Civil servants in Greece represent 22.3% of the total workforce, in France its 30%, in Sweden 34%, and in the Netherlands 27%. "As a result of cuts carried out since 1990...the total real income of civil servants has fallen by 30%."

Those numbers don't indicate Greece is a bunch of lazy, spoiled loafers.

Class warfare, as always, is alive and well.

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