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Who is Responsible for the Greek Tragedy?

SEATTLE – Greece is following the road taken by several other crisis-ridden emerging economies over the past 30 years. Indeed, as I argued earlier this year, there are stunning similarities between this once-proud eurozone member and Argentina prior to its default in 2001. With an equally traumatic implosion – economic, financial, political, and social – now taking place, we should expect heated debate about who is to blame for the deepening misery that millions of Greeks now face.

There are four suspects – all of them involved in the spectacular boom that preceded what will unfortunately prove to be an even more remarkable bust.

Many will be quick to blame successive Greek governments led by what used to be the two dominant political parties, New Democracy on the right and PASOK on the left. Eager to borrow their country to prosperity, they racked up enormous debts while presiding over a dramatic loss of competitiveness and, thus, growth potential. Some even sought to be highly economical with the truth, failing to disclose the true extent of their budgetary slippages and indebtedness.

Having borrowed far too much after joining the eurozone in 2001, New Democracy and PASOK let their citizens down when adjustments and reforms were needed after the 2008 global financial crisis. An initial phase of denial was followed by commitments that could not be met (indeed, that some argued should not be met, owing to faulty program design). The resulting erosion in Greece’s international standing amplified the hardship that citizens were starting to feel.