ECONOMY

Gov’t borrowing will ultimately be footed by taxpayer

Greek public debt has now reached 227 billion euros. We borrow at particularly favorable rates: 0.30 percent lower than average, according to the 2007 budget draft currently being debated at parliamentary committee level. Besides, as Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis often reminds us, everyone is keen to lend to us – we ask for one euro, they offer us five. Greece is an overindebted country – this is why banks love it. They gain without much effort or risk. Since we are in the eurozone, we borrow in euros and stick by the rules of the Stability Pact (this year our budget deficit will fall below the prescribed 3 percent of gross national product). They have no reason not to continue the service. And so we keep borrowing in the same thoughtless way, just like those who keep using their credit cards regardless. Besides public debt, one must take into account the level of private debt – 76 billion euros. Of this, about 50 billion is accounted for by mortgage loans and 25 billion by consumer credit. Further, corporate credit balances total 75 billion euros more, the farming sector exempted. Total deposits, on the other hand, are about 175 billion euros. This, admittedly, is not a bad figure, although the propensity to save is on the decline. The Greek government spends more than 9 billion euros annually in servicing public debt. This has not changed since 1994 but in 1990 it was just one-third. However, this is to be expected from the heavy borrowers: Interest rates fall, they borrow more and end up with more repayments. Households pay about 4-5 billion euros in repaying debt annually, with corporations just a little less. So all in all, this country’s population is paying about 20 billion euros in interest annually, without respite. The government (and the bankers) are not worried, since as a percentage of GDP it is falling, they argue. But what they hide is that the Greek citizen owes three times as much as a taxpayer what he owes as a private borrower. The difference is that he made the decision for his private borrowing himself, whereas the decisions for the public debt are made by politicians – on his behalf but not always to his benefit.