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Greece's Crisis and Contagion Fears

Greece goes broke, and fear rises that a contagion could spread. We look at the Greek debt crisis and global response.

Unemployed school teachers chant slogans at an anti-government demonstration outside the Greek Parliament in Athens, Tuesday, April 27, 2010. Greece's debt crisis intensified Tuesday as its credit rating was cut to junk status. (AP)

A Greek tragedy came to a head this week in Europe, with a financial contagion effect that could plow into the U.S. economy – the global economy.

It’s a terrible cautionary tale of debt run amuck. Greece has spent and borrowed until no one will lend it money anymore.

Now comes bail-out – they hope – and austerity, for sure. Deep, deep cuts in employment, pay, pensions, government services – everything – are coming.

The piper will be paid. Spain could be next. The U.K. And what about the U.S.?

This Hour, On Point:  A meltdown in little Greece, and the world on edge.


John Psaropoulos, Athens correspondent for NPR and founder of the blog The New Athenian. He’s former editor-in-chief of the Athens News.

Scheherazade Rehman, professor of international finance at George Washington University, where she serves as director of the European Union Research Center.

Zanny Minton Beddoes, economics editor for The Economist.

Maya MacGuineas, director of the New American Foundation’s Fiscal Policy Program and president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. She served as a Social Security advisor to the McCain 2000 campaign.


Watch New York University economist Nouriel Roubini discuss Greece’s problems, on Bloomberg Television. He says the current European Union/IMF rescue plans are “not going to work” and that Greece’s problems “are not solvable” with that approach:

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  • Gary

    I don’t blame Germany or France for feeling abused…as a US taxpayer subjected to unrelenting bailouts and subsidies to multi-billion dollar corporations, and “US aid” pissed away all over the world, two unending wars (or is it four now?), countless military bases all over the globe, yealding a relentless servitude of all US taxpayers to these entities… I know just how they feel.

    My advice to France and Germany…Get out of the EU before its too late.

  • John

    Everyone should be paying very close attention to this story, as it has the real possibilty of severe global repercussions. The similarities of Greece to the Lehman Brothers story and its repercussions is very troubling. Do expect a very rocky time in global equities markets for a considerably period of time.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    We have to be careful how we characterize Greece, I’m sure many in China are worried that the US economy will collapse and they’ll be left holding the bag.

    People who live in glass houses…

  • Michael

    It seems that if Europe is having trouble with the Euro, because this pushes investors back to the dollar

  • cory

    The reace to the bottom continues…

    The Germans say the Greeks aren’t as industrious as they could be, and they like to retire early. How dare they attempt to enjoy their lives. This nonsense will continue until workers around the world hold themselves to the standards set by the average Chinese worker.

    It is up to the people to decide what sort of lives they will have. I hope they don’t decide to use their life’s blood to lubricate the gears of the capitalist wealth generating machinery. Eat the rich! Don’t buy into this garbage that we make too much, work too little, and owe our meager existences to our wealthy overlords. Fight back, vote, and don’t believe the hype!

  • John

    It is their own fault for abandoning Zues.

  • http://bruceguindon.com bruce guindon

    I think Greece is very lucky they are members of the European Union other wise they would be facing a death spiral, yet they don’t want to own their own debt as if it were someone else’s problem, oh that’s right this is a world economical depression and Wall street and the minions of hell who caused it are still free men Never mind

  • jeffe

    One thing that is not being discussed here is how dysfunctional the Greek government is. They have way to many people on the pay roll for jobs that there is really nothing to do. The other huge problem is that not paying income taxes seems to be at epidemic proportions.

    There are multimillionaires who claim to only make a 1000 euros a month.

    The Greeks do not want to face music here, neither do we.

  • http://www.warblerpress.com Pete in Rock Hill

    Can’t all of this go right back to Goldmine Sacks & “the Fab?!” They seem to manage to walk away just when the going gets rough.


  • Gary

    There is truth in this: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OTNkMTM5NzlmNzllOGYxNDgxZjI5YTViN2MwNWFiYTQ=

    In Greece they have too many pups and not enough teats.

    We are duplicating their problem here. We who have always worked in the private sector are getting punished for producing GNP and not consuming it.

    If government workers want a taste of reality, get a job that generates tax revenue.

  • EIO Boston

    WE should not be propping up economies or housing or any other industry. Compannies and individuals are better up filing for bankruptcy. Greece should do the same. The lie that it will sppread is that those who are already invested in Greece are trying to have Germany and France bail them out. Let them loose and Greece can restructure under EU and start over again. Let home owners act like bussineses, declare bankruptcy, walk-away and satrt over. $8,000 housing credit is like feeding a drug habit. The best way is, if you are in over your head, stop and start over.

  • jeffe

    Zeus is the God you are looking for.

    Euthenia was the spirit (daimona) of prosperity, abundance and plenty. Her opposite number was Penia (Poverty). She and her sisters Eukleia (Good Repute), Philophrosyne (Welcome) and Eupheme (Acclaim) were probably the goddesses known collectively as the younger Kharites (Graces).

  • Larry

    Coming to America soon.

    The only difference is that Americans won’t go out in the streets and protest and strike they will sit in front of their TVs until the cable and the electric is turned off due to lack of payment.

  • Abel Collins

    I would love it if the discussion turns toward US debt issues. Our problems dwarf the Greek problems. We have 50 trillion dollars of public/private debt, plus another 70 trillion dollars of unfunded liabilities. Our gross debt is more than the combined debt of all the other countries that exist now and have ever existed. We cannot hope to repay those debts with our GDP without hyperinflation. The only thing that allows the charade to continue is that we have the keys to the printing press, and we keep the treasury market and fed balance sheet completely opaque.

    Will the world consider a global jubilee?

  • Newt

    I hope you address the accusations that this crisis is in fact the result of finanicial manipulations, a la Goldman, & friends. That is, financiers betting against Greek debt, then pushing default. I’ve seen this on some US websites, and heard some Greeks say it on NPRs coverage.
    But it has been ignored my the mainstream media, including NPR.

    Even if incorrect, the perception that it is, especially by the Greek public, is an important factor, and should be covered.

  • Tyrone

    The thing that should really scare people is the level of the US Debt. All of the gold in the world amounts to 161,000 tons, according to National Geographic. At todays gold prices of roughly $1000 per ounce, that’s only 5 trillion dollars, or less than half of the present day US National Debt. Think about that – all of the gold in the world can’t even pay off half of today’s US National Debt. Now think about the recent legislation passed by Congress, and the OMB estimate that in another decade, the US National Debt will more than double. Basically, the Sword of Damocles is already over our heads, and the thread WILL break. It’s only a matter of when.

  • Todd

    Ain’t globalization grand!?

  • Bernard B

    Mr. A says that Greek national debt, at 1.2X GDP is off the charts. If you include state debt, and unacknowledged state debt (recent NYT expose), and local debt, of the top of my head I would say we are pretty close to 1X — is that on the charts?

  • Sofia Perez

    Tom Ashbrook and his guest from George Washington keep making the same mistakes other US media is making about how countries are being rated by the three rating agencies: Here is a list of the current rating of the Eurozone countries by the three agencies. Spain has only been downgraded from triple A by one agency. it is AAA, AA, AAA. That is much higher than not just Portugal but also (Italy AA+, A-, AA-) and also Belgium and Ireland. You are feeding on this psychological bandwagon that is focusing on Spain, just repeating what other media are doing. This is as much media driven as it is rating agency driven. At the very least you could read the rating agency tables, which are questionable enough, and paint a more difuse picture, rather than jump on the latest headline and push along the market bandwagons.

  • Harry Konstantinidis

    Greece spends the most among EU countries (possibly even among OECD countries) in military expenditure, in proportion to its GDP. How is it possible that leaders from all other countries do not want to address this spending in order to cut down on the Greek debt?

    Cutting down on everything should not just include – it should start from the military expenditures.

  • Gavin McKeown

    Can your guests explain how, when the Euro zone was supposed to be a one-for-all, all-for-one type system, there is such huge disparity in interest rates? Greece pay 16% while Germany pay 1%. That’s going to break the Euro sooner or later.

  • Adam S.

    I have two questions:

    What role did the cost and financing of the Athens Olympics play in Greece’s problems?

    And, is there European regret or anger about allowing Greece into the EU?

  • Tom Harrison

    No one has mentioned the spending incurred for the 2004 summer olympics held in Athens that had Greece borrowing and spending over 8 billion euros just to host the games not to mention the construction costs involved.

  • Joe

    Anyone know how I can “short” Greece?

  • Wait one minute…

    We need “all decks on hand” ??

    Oh boy, we ARE in trouble.

  • Larry

    Get our fiscil situation under control to the rich means the middle class.

    Not them.

    They got theirs through the Bush Tax Cuts which increased their wealth tremendously and through the tax laws which are written to keep as money money as possible in their pockets.

    And of course through the biggest theft in history, THE BAILOUT TO WALL STREET.

    Now, Americans, they are going to take your Social Security and Medicare. Your “entitlements”.

    Never mind that we have been paying in extra since 1983 to cover the Baby Boomers retirement and have a 2.4 trillion dollar surplus.

    Now that the elite have destroyed first pensions, now 401ks, they are coming after the only thing you have left in old age Social Security.


  • Janet

    Apparently, Socialism does not work.

  • twenty-niner

    “Anyone know how I can “short” Greece?”

    You buy credit default swaps, but that trade has already been played:


    Start looking at shorting France and Greece, as they have huge exposure to Greek debt.

  • twenty-niner

    “Apparently, Socialism does not work.”

    It’s great right up until you run out of money.

  • twenty-niner

    Great article on sovereign debt problems from Willem Buiter at Citi:


    Here are the highlights:

    There may not be a single AAA-rate sovereign left 5 years from now,

    For the US, with a structural primary deficit in 2009 of 7.3 percent of GDP, the arithmetic of solvency indicates the need for at least 7.3 percent of GDP worth of permanent fiscal tightening (not counting the long-term fiscal tightening required to accommodate future age-related public spending ambitions).

    As regards motive, a significant share of the US nominally denominated debt is held abroad. Between 55% and 70% of total US currency stock (around $928 bn in circulation at the end of 2009) is estimated to be held abroad.

    Here the situation is currently less inviting for the US than it was in 1946, the all-time peak of the US public debt to GDP ratio, as the average maturity of the US Treasury debt is only half of what it was in 1946, falling to around 4 years by the end of 2009.

    It (figure 10, taken from Reinhart and Rogoff (2009b)) shows that, historically (since 1790), the US has exhibited a tendency to respond to high public debt burdens with high inflation.

  • http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/Cancervictory/ Alan Kreglow

    This is a crisis that has been planned for a very long time by those who lend money that has been manufactured out of thin air (fiat currency) for the purpose of consolidating power and wealth in the hands of those who control the world’s supply of phony money – the owners of the Federal Reserve and their co-conspirators who own the “central banks” of other countries around the world.

    When I signed our mortgage there was no signature on the part of the lender. In fact, the “lender” was some “loan origination” company that sold the loan eventually to GMAC. Why no lender signature? The lender had not actually supplied anything of substance! The “lender” had only secured an agreement on our part to give this “lender” provisional title to our property and a promise to pay so much a month until the phony calculations of principle and interest had been satisfied according to the contract. Why did I sign, knowing all this? This is the system in which we live and I was not in a position to pay for the property in gold, which would have been the real way out of phony fiat currency payment that confers no real lawful ownership of ANY property purchased with fiat unbacked paper currency.

    What is to be done on the global scale about this? The solution has ALREADY been agreed to and is just waiting for the final defeat of those behind the Fed and their allied dark hearted elites in other countries. The SOLUTION is global DEBT FORGIVENESS and new GOLD BACKED CURRENCIES that begin a new global financial system. These are international agreements to end the dominance of Earth for the last 13,000 years by dark hearted family bloodlines whose DNA gave them a conscious advantage over the rest of us, but whose orientation was not to evolution into ever increasing Light, but to devolution into darkness. These people literally worship forces of darkness and implement their control of the planet through quasi-spiritual secret societies (where the big secret is their worship of forces of darkness) and organizations in the US like the Council on Foreign Relations.

    The reason why this global network of control is crumbling is that everyone on Earth is slowly WAKING UP to the reality that we do not have to put up with this nonsense. The celestial/consciousness mechanics of why this is happening is that our solar system is about to cross the mid-plane of our galaxy at the end of 2012. This crossing connects us with the divinely conscious core of our galaxy, conferring enlightenment on all who do not opt out of the experience (by choosing to move to some darkness-dominated planet somewhere).

    Unfortunately for “THEM”, and fortunately for the rest of US, the Earth is preparing to move into the 5th dimension as part of the celestial/consciousness mechanics affecting our solar system. We are all invited to the party.

    Star nations of the Galactic Federation have sent millions of ships of their star fleet to this solar system, and they are parked all over the solar system. Want evidence that this is so? Get hold of some military grade night-vision equipment and study the night sky on a clear night. You can see the Galactic Federation ships near to Earth up there blinking their lights, highly visible if you just LOOK. They show themselves from time to time through highly visible fly-overs, such as happened over Phoenix Arizona a few years ago. They are just waiting for their Light oriented allies on Earth to complete the process of supplanting the corporations masquerading as governments in the U.S. and abroad with interim legitimate governments that are to prepare all of us sleeping sheeple for valid elections and a return to the Constitutional Republic in the united states of America, and whatever legitimate governments apply around the world.

    What then? We need to become fully conscious to participate in a 5th dimensional galactic civilization, and the Galactic Federation has very elaborate and effective plans to enable us to achieve the conscious transformation that we need to go through to go with the Earth into the 5th dimension.

    Want to know more? Visit http://www.galacticmessages.com/blog/ – frequently to see the latest messages from the Galactic Federation. Unless you close your heart and mind to this blast of light-filled-truth, you will be delighted and amazed.

  • Liz B.

    The European Union and its costs have been a financial disaster for the average citizens of every European country. Taxes have increased to support a giant bureaucratic governance while social benefits have been and are continually being decreased (which are essential to a peaceful present and future) and now most countries’ governments are on the brink of bankruptcy.

    If you look at the evolution of the EU, it seems that the Western European leaders miscalculated the long-term economic benefits of the expansion of the EU borders to Eastern and Southern Europe. When the EU expansion began, mostly in the early 1990 it was trumpeted as a vital ingredients to bring democracy to the rest of Europe (mostly the Eastern European, post-communist block). In reality, it was an expansion of the Western European markets (and nothing more) to a new frontier and it was a tool to destroy the functioning and quality industries in these countries and make them dependent on foreign investments, IMF loans, etc..

    The expansion of the European markets worked for some time (for locals as well bcs of initial low prices of goods) and it created huge revenue increases but since the local economies have been systematically destroyed over the years and people were losing their livelihood, the taxpayer pool decreased, therefore the governments’ revenues decreased and are now unable to pay their debt requirements. It’s very important to note that the expanding multi-national companies are NOT taxpaying entities in any of these countries (not even into the EU coffers!) so their increasing profits are accumulating in some ‘off-shore’ bank. (BTW: why do you think Switzerland is NOT part of the EU and; hint: they have a great banking system.)

    Essentially, what these countries are dealing with now include high unemployment, gigantic debt, social unrest, rising taxes that citizens are unable to pay for, destroyed local economies, etc. It’s a recipe for disaster as the German and French taxpayers are angry at the Greek and Spanish taxpayers for ‘perceived’ overspending. The prime ministers are shuffling their costs and revenues around while the financiers are having a good time and collecting more and more money in off-shore countries.

    Greece and Spain and Portugal are just being singled out but in reality every Eurozone country faces the same problem: financial debt and dependence due to miscalculated economic consequences. There is a hard road ahead for everyone unless someone comes up with a viable solution (economic, social, governmental, environmental) that addresses the real causes of this financial mess.

  • twenty-niner

    “They got theirs through the Bush Tax Cuts which increased their wealth tremendously and through the tax laws which are written to keep as money money as possible in their pockets.”

    Tax cuts are a rounding error compared to the money business owners make via global labor arbitrage.

  • Charlotte

    Rich Greeks as well as poor Greeks will have to start paying honest taxes. They will have to institute honest bookkeeping and deal with eachother above the table, not under it. Politicians, financiers, and stockbrokers will be called to account along with those those who make their careers living on the dole. The rest of us will continue to carry our burdens, plant our victory gardens, and make do with hand-me-downs as we always have. Sounds like a reckoning that will be coming to this country sometime soon, too.

  • Michael

    “Apparently, Socialism does not work.”

    Just ask Germany or Sweden oops there doing better than the U.S. Even China that Commie Country is doing better than the U.S. who U.S. Companies feel the need to move work and jobs over sea’s to China under Communist rule Instead of U.S. capitalism rule.

    We even buy there products encouraging that system of government as well as giving tax payer tax cuts for our Companies to Work and be controlled by Communist (that we hate some much in American but love over seas if profits are good and goods are cheap)

    Apparently capitalism does not work if we used your logic, Remember investing in the market was encouraged on products most people never even heard of as well as not paying off your full Credit balanced and saving discouraged.

    Oppps I busted your bubble.

  • Steve V

    In order for the US to solve its (financial) problems we need a literate, educated, informed public. I don’t believe we have any of these qualities now, nor are we likely to in the future. The time is past when we shaped our future. The train has left the station and we are passengers going……….where?

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    Socialism Does Not Work! Laughable

    China is Communist but that country is making more money than America. Communist Capitalist

    Capitalist – Chinese can create their own businesses
    Communism Government – To control 2 Billion people. Just imagine if it was Democratic. Their will be tons of murders,rape,Internet violations,child abduction etc etc every social disorder we have here in America plus porno.

    Socialism Ronald Reagan,George Bush, Old school mentality. Education in America comes from the Tube (tv) and WORKED until you die. Is that a life you want to do?

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    I hope more Younger Generation can comment on NPR in how they think about the US government today.

    But all I see are comments from baby boomers or 30 to 40 something commentor that all they think about is Universal healthcare, Socialism are bad for the people plus how to work until 90 yrs old.

    That is so old school. We live in the 21st Century there are Wind Turbine at coast of Nantucket but still oppose it and spend another millions of dollars to protest the Wind Turbine.

    We should Built Oil Rigs at coast so those people would really know what Eye Sore Really Means or built a Power plant at Nantucket Island.

  • Alex

    “Apparently, Socialism does not work.”

    “It’s great right up until you run out of money.”

    Capitalism is not much different. When the jig is up they run to the government for rescue. Goldman has not only got a bailout though AIG, but also lobbied to ban short selling when it threatened their well being.

  • twenty-niner

    “It’s great right up until you run out of money.”

    “Capitalism is not much different. When the jig is up they run to the government for rescue.”

    That’s socialized capitalism, the worst of both worlds. True laissez faire allows private entities to fail. What we have now is a destructive partnership between Wall Street and the government where gains are capitalized and losses are socialized.

  • Scott Fletcher

    John, Maybe Goldman Sachs can bundle-it-up and sell the Greek debt. :>

  • david

    What all these countries have in common is they are all heavy governmental. The government is envolved in everything and those govt. grew to the point of unsustainablity. More handouts and taxed to the hill, till it all comes tumbling down. The quest stated this problem. All these countries provide govt. run healthcare. Money to pay for all this, turned into debt.
    We Americans are headed in the same direction. Before healthcare passed we praised the European model and wanted one just like it. We now see the results of this.
    We fuss about our system of capitalism, but it has made us the greatest nation in the world.

  • Janet

    Capitalism is a much better system than Socialism as demonstrated again by the failure of another big Socialist country, Greece. People don’t run to the broke down socialists for cash..they turn to the USA..we create wealth, well we try too, get the liberals and progressives out of the way.

  • Bush’s fault

    Does it help to be rich if the world economy fails?

  • Bush’s fault

    Here in New York State we think of ourselves as the Greece of the East. We’re broke, we have a huge, unfunded public worker population, enormous debt, no money on the horizon and public worker layoffs are increasing. OPA! Yiamas!

  • Michael

    “Capitalism is not much different. When the jig is up they run to the government for rescue. Goldman has not only got a bailout though AIG, but also lobbied to ban short selling when it threatened their well being”

    Don’t forget lobbied to change/switch their bank status.

  • Michael

    “Capitalism is a much better system than Socialism as demonstrated again by the failure of another big Socialist country, Greece. People don’t run to the broke down socialists for cash..they turn to the USA..we create wealth, well we try too, get the liberals and progressives out of the way.”

    You forgot some,

    Than the U.S. runs to Communist China and begs them to keep buying our debt so we can keep the credit going and give out more tax cuts.

    as well True laissez faire is a false nothing close to democratic since whoever in power can bribe there way from not failing , since everything would have a price including people and force would be need to enforce such. Just check out the time in America when we had our Laissez Faire Railroad Barons, and Big Oil.

  • Impeach Obama

    What’s happening in Greece will soon be happening here. How’s that “hope and change” looking to all you lap dogs now?

  • Michael

    “What’s happening in Greece will soon be happening here. How’s that “hope and change” looking to all you lap dogs now?”

    (wink wink)I never heard of any republican President that accrued any National Debt on there watch, Reagan? Bush 1? Bush the 2nd? Look how great they did in the 90′s…. Oppps that was a Democrat, oh i remember a President increasing out Debt to 5trillion when he left office and the one that followed increased it more, than finally we had a surplus (oops that was Clinton) well afterwards, opps again that was bush who left us at 10 Trillion and a 1.2 Trillion deficit left to the Next President.

    Dam when you think of it Republicans really screwed us. I see why Republicans say government doesn’t work? Since under Republican rule it doesn’t

  • Spoiled yapping dog

    Stick a fork in her, cuz Grece is done. And most likely the other 3rd tier nations in the EuroZone. A previous post stated that all the planet’s mined and refined gold wouldn’t even scratch the total debt load our country posseses right now.
    Debt is only a human construct, like race, religion and politics. A method of exchange on a massive scale, nothing more. A soldier will still be a soldier if he is rich or poor. The same as with doctors, teachers and barbers. Those with skill will continue to live and thrive even when all currencies are deemed worthless.
    In the grand collapse, I may become impoverished but my worth as a human being will remain undiminished. I have skills to trade for goods and services and others will do the same. The whole of western civilization will recognize what those of long ago already know that in the end you will be the total of what you can do for others and what others can do for you.

  • Renate Mott

    I have now read all the comments and have listened to the program twice. I am a great fan of On Point with Tom Ashbrook, but this particular show about Greece’s Crisis has been very disappointing to me. Mr. Ashbrook, I expected your questions to professor Scheherazade Rehman to be at least a tad more critical. Yes, I read about her qualifications and expertise in the field of international finance, but who’s expert is she? Who’s opinion (science) does she represent? Liz B.’s post (April 29th, 2010 at 1:05 PM)demonstrates more expertise and understanding of world finances & politics than what I heard from Prof. Scheherazade Rehman. Concluding from some of the comments and questions, it could be helpful to listeners to have an understand of the concept of the EU in order to develop an informed opinion. No, it is not a “one-for-all and all-for one” system.

  • Gary

    @ Spoiled yapping dog – “Debt is only a human construct, like race, religion and politics.”

    I that what you intend to tell the bank? I don’t think they will see it your way… now you were a huge multi-national corporation, then yes, your debt never needs to be paid.

  • http://greenworldinvestor.com Abhishek

    Markets were back up to previous levels after a bailout package for Greece got an assent from the Germans and the IMF.But the condition of southern Europe continues to be precarious as unemployment continues to be high and the health of the whole European financial sector remains in a critical state.

  • blue monkey

    Greece and Spain won’t pay back. The only thing Germans can do is:
    REPOSES 170 Leopard 2AEX Battle Tanks from Greece, and 190 Leopard 2A6E Battle Tanks from Spain.
    U.S.A must REPOSES 170 F-16 Jet Fighters from Greece, the rest is gone with the wind …forever …
    Greece will stop paying lucrative pensions with borrowed money, reform the health care system, and cut 4 times the military budged.

  • sss

    What is Greece crisis mean?

  • http://twitter.com/javiervegac Javier Vega C.

    Here an economic analysis of financial resctate Portugal, there is also a comparison between the rate of GDP growth, unemployment and minimum wage in Portugal with other countries:



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