OPINION

Excessive debt

Household and corporate debt levels in Greece have skyrocketed recently and should the current rate continue, it will pose a real threat to the economy. The debts of Greek corporations rose from 15 percent of GDP in 1997 to 40 percent in 2001. Furthermore, according to recent data released by the National Bank of Greece, consumer and housing loans soared from 5.4 trillion drachmas in November 2000 to 8 trillion by November 2001, that is a 50-percent increase. They since have climbed to 16 percent of GDP. This is not only a Greek phenomenon. On the contrary, it could be argued that borrowing in Greece is far below the European average. What is alarming is not its size but, rather, its precipitous upward trend. In Britain, for example, household debt reached 118 percent of household income in 2001, while in Germany, it climbed to 115 percent. Even in the highly conservative Japanese households, which are the world’s biggest savers, debts have reached 132 percent of income. The excessive borrowing by corporations and households in the USA, Europe and Japan is the means used to absorb the painful shocks coming from the serious economic downturn. This, however, may serve the aim of effortless prosperity in the short term but, at the same time, it mortgages the future, should the system’s saturation limit – which is each time defined by a combination of the current economic parameters – be transcended. Worldwide concerns are stemming from the fact that should this global credit bubble burst, the consequences will be much more dramatic that those unleashed by the collapse of the corresponding stock market bubble. It should be noted that Greece is in a relatively advantageous position, as the loan to disposable income ratio is still low. This advantage should not be thrown away. This is even more important, given that the Greek public’s lack of «credit culture» could easily cause an excessive debt situation, generating phenomena reminiscent of public behavior during the 1999 stock market boom. Used to astronomic interest rates of 20 to 30 percent for decades, the Greek public is lured by the much lower rates of today and they could easily underestimate the difficulties involved in paying those off – attracted by the banks’ competitive loan offers. Prudence and moderation are again an imperative. The study also shows a direct correlation between the time spent in rehab and education on drug abuse and a reduction in the likelihood of needle-sharing.