The IMF’s “Tough Choices” on Greece

ATHENS – The International Monetary Fund’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, recently asked a simple and important question: “How much of an adjustment has to be made by Greece, how much has to be made by its official creditors?” But that raises two more questions: How much of an adjustment has Greece already made? And have its creditors given anything at all?

In May 2010, the Greek government agreed to a fiscal adjustment equal to 16% of GDP from 2010 to 2013. As a result, Greece moved from a primary budget deficit (which excludes interest payments on debt) of more than 10% of GDP to a primary balance last year – by far the largest such reversal in post-crisis Europe.

The IMF initially projected that Greece’s real (inflation-adjusted) GDP would contract by around 5% over the 2010-2011 period, stabilize in 2012, and grow thereafter. In fact, real GDP fell 25%, and did not recover. And, because nominal GDP fell in 2014 and continues to fall, the debt/GDP ratio, which was supposed to stabilize three years ago, continues to rise.

Blanchard notes that in 2012, Greece agreed “to generate enough of a primary surplus to limit its indebtedness” and to implement “a number of reforms which should lead to higher growth.” Those so-called reforms included sharply lower public spending, minimum-wage reductions, fire-sale privatizations, an end to collective bargaining, and deep pension cuts. Greece followed through, but the depression continued.