Greek euro coin and European Union pin

The Great Greek Bank Robbery

Since 2008, bank bailouts have entailed a significant transfer of private losses to taxpayers in Europe and the US. The latest Greek bank bailout constitutes a cautionary tale about how politics – in this case, Europe’s – is geared toward maximizing public losses for questionable private benefits.

ATHENS – Since 2008, bank bailouts have entailed a significant transfer of private losses to taxpayers in Europe and the United States. The latest Greek bank bailout constitutes a cautionary tale about how politics – in this case, Europe’s – is geared toward maximizing public losses for questionable private benefits.

In 2012, the insolvent Greek state borrowed €41 billion ($45 billion, or 22% of Greece’s shrinking national income) from European taxpayers to recapitalize the country’s insolvent commercial banks. For an economy in the clutches of unsustainable debt, and the associated debt-deflation spiral, the new loan and the stringent austerity on which it was conditioned were a ball and chain. At least, Greeks were promised, this bailout would secure the country’s banks once and for all.

In 2013, once that tranche of funds had been transferred by the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the eurozone’s bailout fund, to its Greek franchise, the Hellenic Financial Stability Facility, the HFSF pumped approximately €40 billion into the four “systemic” banks in exchange for non-voting shares.

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