Austerity Is the Only Deal-Breaker

ATHENS – A common fallacy pervades coverage by the world’s media of the negotiations between the Greek government and its creditors. The fallacy, exemplified in a recent commentary by Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, is that, “Athens is unable or unwilling – or both – to implement an economic reform program.” Once this fallacy is presented as fact, it is only natural that coverage highlights how our government is, in Stephens’s words, “squandering the trust and goodwill of its eurozone partners.”

But the reality of the talks is very different. Our government is keen to implement an agenda that includes all of the economic reforms emphasized by European economic think tanks. Moreover, we are uniquely able to maintain the Greek public’s support for a sound economic program.

Consider what that means: an independent tax agency; reasonable primary fiscal surpluses forever; a sensible and ambitious privatization program, combined with a development agency that harnesses public assets to create investment flows; genuine pension reform that ensures the social-security system’s long-term sustainability; liberalization of markets for goods and services, etc.

So, if our government is willing to embrace the reforms that our partners expect, why have the negotiations not produced an agreement? Where is the sticking point?