Thursday, March 11, 2010

How Greece's Debt Crisis Affects America


Earlier this week, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou traveled to the United States to promote a message: We're in this together. The debt crisis that has threatened the Greek economy and the stability of the European Union's monetary policies "very much involves America's interests," Papandreou stated in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The prime minister—who was born in St. Paul, Minn.—even connected the current crisis to the Great Depression as well as the Great Recession. "If the European crisis metastasizes, it could create a new global financial crisis with implications as grave as the U.S.-originated crisis two years ago," he said.

But the path from a Greek crisis to a U.S. crisis is not a direct one. The European Union is hoping it can contain Greece's debt crisis before the problems spread across the continent—threatening the stability of all countries that use the euro, or the euro zone—and then over the Atlantic.

The crisis began shortly after the election last fall of the new socialist government led by Papandreou. State officials revealed that Greece's budget deficit was at 14 percent of GDP—almost twice what the official Greek government statistics had reported. Two months later, Moody's downgraded Greece's debt to A2, raising the possibility of Greece defaulting on its debt.

If Greece defaults, "it risks exacerbating the economic downturns and could even reignite an acute financial crisis" through higher interest rates, Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at investment firm Brown Brothers Harriman, wrote in a report.

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