by Charles Hugh Smith
The era of living off borrowed money is over in Greece, and the Greek people now have a choice.
Almost four years ago I wrote Greece, Please Do The Right Thing: Default Now (June 1, 2011). Default remains the only real way forward for Greece and Europe.Consider the destructive "gains" reaped by four years of lies, predation, debt-serfdom and austerity in service to kleptocrats: tremendous suffering by many Greek citizens, all for nothing but propping up the evil of debt-serfdom to the Greek kleptocracy and the financial royalty of Europe.
The truth is Greece squandered four years propping up a patently false illusion that using the euro as a currency was worth everything, when it was always worth nothing. As I have described at length for four long years, the euro created a brief (and highly profitable to the kleptocrats and banks) fantasy that marginal borrowers would magically be transformed into solid credit risks simply because they were now borrowing euros instead of drachmas.
It doesn't matter what is being borrowed--euros, drachmas, quatloos or beads--marginal borrowers are still high credit risks. The entire subprime mortgage fiasco was based on a similar financial fraud: that the housing bubble would enable homeowners with insufficient cash, income and creditworthiness to service gargantuan mortgages--mortgages that were issued with the intent of defrauding buyers of mortgage-backed securities.
Greece is simply an example of the same fraud played out on a larger stage.
The euro is one of the greatest monetary frauds in history, and its managers have waged one of the greatest campaigns of financial terrorism in history. These managers have persuaded (or bamboozled) the majority of Greeks (if polls are to be believed) and just about everyone else on the planet that exiting the euro would be an unmitigated disaster for the Greek people.
This is absolutely opposite of the truth: exiting the euro and returning to its own sovereign currency will be the greatest possible good for the Greek people, for the simple reasons that 1) they will finally be in control of their own destiny and 2) issuing one's own currency disciplines the entire economy in positive ways.
Ask yourself who is more likely to succeed in the world: the spoiled child who lacks even the most basic self-discipline, or the child who has learned that actions today have long-term consequences?
It's not that difficult to lay out a fiscal and monetary plan that would quickly build trust in a new Greek currency. The hard part is breaking the cycle of corruption and lies that is the Status Quo in the Greek economy.
1. Announce that the government can only spend what it collects in taxes and fees. The state will not borrow money, period.
2. Announce a new, simplified tax structure, with tax rates far below those of other European nations. For example, if the value-added tax (VAT) is 17% elsewhere in Europe, the Greek rate would be set at 7%. (Compare that to the sales tax in California, which is 9%.)
3. Explain that the future of Greece depends entirely on everyone paying taxes, since the government will no longer borrow-and-spend.
3. Hire 10,000 currently unemployed accountants (including recent college graduates who have been unable to find jobs in accounting), train them in forensic accounting and auditing and unleash them on the Greek economy, starting with the top 1/10th of 1% (the kleptocracy class) and working their way down to the corner cafe.
3. Make the pain of cheating and non-compliance higher than the pain of paying relatively low taxes.
4. Change the social perception that not paying taxes is acceptable behavior. Publicize the list of tax cheats, etc.
5. Make government spending transparent and auditable by any citizen with an Internet connection.
6. Enforce strict banking laws where lenders that loan money without regard for risk management are forced to absorb their losses and close their doors. Encourage prudent private lending and borrowing.
A nation's currency is a measure of global trust in that nation's fiscal and monetary order. If that order is based on a culture of corruption, lies, fraud and debt, the currency will lose value: why own a currency that is constantly being debased by lies and unpayable debts?
A currency based on transparency, fiscal prudence, little state debt and strictly enforced taxation and risk management will gain trust and value. The people who fear a Greek currency are actually afraid that the current culture of corruption, tax evasion and lies cannot be transformed. They are wrong. That culture can be transformed by strict adherence to simple rules of transparency, low tax rates, prudent state spending and a private banking sector that is held accountable for its risk management (or lack thereof).
In sum, the era of living off borrowed money is over in Greece, and the Greek people now have a choice: they can continue down the path of poverty by leaving their culture of corruption unchanged, or they can grasp the nettle and support a new culture based on transparency, fiscal prudence and strict adherence to the basic rules of monetary management.