“Default is not necessarily destructive,” said Panayiotis Lafazanis, a Greek politician in the left-wing SYRIZA. “It is a weapon of the weak when they reach the point of not being able to pay their debts.” Closer to the truth than anything else emanating from Greek politics. “Not necessarily destructive” for the Greeks—given their current calamity—but highly destructive for the European Central Bank and national central banks that ended up with crappy Greek bonds on their books; and for banks with derivative exposure. Hence the bailouts. They’re an effort to keep the bondholders afloat, not the Greeks—no one wants to recapitalize the ECB.
But there is something the Greeks could do: they could, for example, do their patriotic duty and pay their taxes—rather than asking taxpayers in other countries to do that for them. According to a recent study, Greek tax evasion amounted to €11.2 billion in just one year. Do that year after year, and pretty soon, you’re talking about real money.
By looking at bank records, as a bank would do to grant a loan, researchers determined that the “true income” of the average Greek is a stunning 1.92 times larger than reported income. They’re not just cheating a little bit. They’re massively defrauding the system. The worst tax evaders: independent professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers. And they’re so well represented in parliament that they were able to derail legislation that would have tightened the noose on them. And if the government used banking data to go after the tax cheats? Wouldn’t work. The wily Greeks “would immediately change their banking practices,” said Nikolaos Artavanis, one of the researchers. “Tax immunity provided by the current tax regulations,” an analyst called it.
Stiffed by its people, the government is out of money, so it just sold almost €5 billion in three and six-month T-bills to its bankrupt and bailed-out banks that then handed this worthless paper to the Greek central bank in exchange for real euros, which they passed on to the government. Of that, €3.2 billion will be paid to the ECB on August 20 for a maturing bond, leaving only a few crumbs for the government and nothing for the Greeks.
But the government is still out of money. It’s desperate. So it announced through the channels that it would no longer pay anyone until it got the next bailout tranche of €31 billion, the one that should have been paid in June, but was delayed till September, and now till October, if it ever gets paid. However, the government will pay salaries and pensions of the bloated public sector.
The payment moratorium—or selective default—has in effect been going on for months. The amount the government is in arrears to its suppliers jumped to €6.6 billion. Hospitals and the social security fund are owed 2.2 billion, military weapons programs are getting shortchanged—they’re still buying weapons?—some interest payments haven’t been made….
And the state-owned health insurer, National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY) is one of the suppliers that hasn’t been paid, and it’s out of money, and so it stopped paying pharmacists for prescriptions they filled for their insured patients. And the pharmacists are out of money, and they’ve had enough. In 14 prefectures, and soon perhaps nationwide, they’re rebelling against the system that’s so gummed up, and they announced that they’d refuse to issue prescription drugs to insured patients. To get their drugs, patients would have to pay, in the hope of getting reimbursed—in drachmas?
The Greek government is trying to spread the implementation of structural reforms over four years, rather than two. That extension would cost taxpayers in other countries an additional €50 billion or so, the third bailout package, for a total tab of €315 billion—when Greece’s ever shrinking GDP is less than €300 billion. And it still wouldn’t solve the problem of the well-connected elite not wanting to do their patriotic duty and pay their taxes. They’d rather stuff their pockets with euros from taxpayers elsewhere.
Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:
Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.