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MLA Full: "Understanding the Financial Crisis in Greece." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 7 July 2015,
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APA Full: vlogbrothers. (2015, July 7). Understanding the Financial Crisis in Greece [Video]. YouTube.
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In which John Green discusses the history of Greece's deficit and debt problems, the challenges of adopting the Euro and living with the Eurozone's monetary policy, and the possibility of the so-called Grexit--a Greek exit from the Euro.

Sources for this video:
Anil Kashyap's Primer on the Greek Crisis:

The New York Times' introduction:

History of the European Debt Crisis:

The Economist's excellent coverage of Greece, bailouts, debt woes, and how the banking system works now: and especially

And thanks very much to Rosianna: for all of her help gathering facts and images. All mistakes, as always, are my own.

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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

I'm just back from a crazy and beautiful and exhausting trip to Brazil in support of Ciudades de Papel, and I will talk more about that later, but for now, I want to talk about Greece.

So Hank, as you know, I was the third best economist among all C students at the Alabama state academic decathlon in 1994, but even a professional like myself does not know how the economic crisis in Greece should or will end.

So I'm not gonna try to offer solutions today; I'm just gonna try to understand the problem and how we came to a place so desperate that the news media has created the horrific compound word "Grexit."

So Greece is a country in southern Europe: you know, the Acropolis, Socrates, Hipacea, the movie "300," et cetera, and until 2001, its currency was the drachma, which probably meant "handful," because three thousand years ago, a "drachma" was a handful of six metal sticks that were used as currency. Flash forward a bit to 1832: Greece becomes an independent nation and brings back the drachma. But then, in 2001, Greece joined the Eurozone, along with all of these countries, and began using the Euro as its currency.

The euro has been great, insofar as it facilitates trade, but nineteen countries sharing a currency has its problems. Like one of the reasons this crisis has been so confounding is that Greece's monetary policy - how much money they can print - is controlled by the European Central Bank, but Greece's fiscal policy - how much money they can spend and where they spend it - is mostly controlled by the Greek government.

Now, Greece and other Eurozone countries are supposed to follow some basic fiscal rules like no more than three percent annual budget deficits, for instance, but many Eurozone countries, including Greece, have broken those rules.

Speaking of which, since the mid 1990s, the Greek government had been reporting deficits and debts that were much lower than the actual deficits and debts. And then every time a new government got elected, they would be like "wow, the previous government was not telling the whole truth about deficits", and then that new government would proceed to not tell the whole truth about deficits.

And then in 2009, a newly elected government announced that the budget deficit that year would be 13.9% of total economic output
and that the numbers had been fudged for some previous years.

How did it get so bad? Well, that depends on who you ask. Some people point out that Greece's labor costs got much higher after joining the Eurozone. They probably had too much debt to start, there was a huge problem with tax evasion in Greece, and when the 2008 US recession became global, Greece was disproportionately affected because two of its biggest industries are shipping and tourism, neither of which fare particularly well in recessions. Now, I wanna emphasize that it's not always bad for a government to run a deficit, if that deficit can be invested in ways that grow the economy and increase the tax base, it will increase government revenue, it's a virtuous cycle.

For instance, the United States has a strong economy, and we've been running a deficit quite consistently for fifty years.

But Greece's situation is different. They've been able to borrow money at low interest rates ever since joining the euro, because people figured they were a safe bet, right? The euro is safe. But with these revelations in 2009 that Greece's deficits were so high, investors started to get nervous, and they started to ask for higher and higher interest rates in exchange for loans. Greece needed that money so it had to accept the higher interest rates, which made its deficit problem worse, which made the interest rates go up--that's a vicious cycle.

Okay Hank, so by the spring of 2010, the problem had become so bad that a younger and more promising version of myself discussed it in a Vlogbrothers video. Also it was so bad that the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund came to Greece's aid with a 110 billion euro bailout. The European Central Bank also helped out by buying some Greek debt, and giving Greek banks access to capital, and these three institutions came to be known as "the troika".

Now this all may seem very generous of Europe and the IMF, but one, it was a loan, not a gift, and two, back then the Eurozone was feeling contagion jitters. Interest rates were also starting to creep up in Portugal and Ireland and Spain. And there was a real fear that the whole Eurozone might fall apart and that would be disastrous for trade and would also lead to a big worldwide recession.

Furthermore, most of Greece's debt was owed to German and French banks. So in a way, the governments of the biggest countries in the Eurozone were lending money to Greece so that Greece could pay back the banks of the biggest countries in the Eurozone. So in exchange for these loans, Greece agreed to austerity measures - basically they raised taxes and cut pensions and other benefits.

And this kind of worked insofar as Greece did decrease their budget deficit from 25 billion euro in 2009 to just 5.2 billion euro in 2011. But it also caused the Greek economy to contract dramatically. People had less money to spend as their pensions shrank and their taxes rose, and that in turn led to the failure of businesses and fewer jobs.

And as the economy shrank, so did tax revenues, because the economy is the thing that governments tax, and in the end, nothing really got better. Greece still didn't have a sustainable economy, so in 2012, the troika loaned them another 130 billion euro.

And then over the last couple years there were some real signs of life in the Greek economy, and it looked like things were starting to bottom out. But unemployment is still over 25 percent, and I wanna emphasize that economic crises are also humanitarian crises. 30 percent of people in Greece now live in poverty, and almost one in five doesn't have enough money to buy food that will meet their daily nutritional needs.

The Greek depression has been as deep as the United States' Great Depression. And it may not be over. But from a wider European economic perspective, things have gotten a lot better in the last five years. Private European banks own much less Greek debt than they did in 2010, the economies of Ireland and Portugal are much healthier, and so it's much less likely that the Greek economy collapsing, or even Greece exiting the euro, would be catastrophic for the rest of Europe.

Okay so flash forward to the end of last year, a new leftist government is elected in Greece, and they say "no more austerity, we can't take it anymore." Their argument, and many economists would agree with this, is that austerity will never work because the economy just keeps shrinking and shrinking and shrinking at least as fast as the deficit does.

In response to this, the troika stopped sending loan payments, and then there were a bunch of negotiations, and then the Greek government put it to a referendum: "Should we continue with austerity, so that we can get this loan money, or should we just say no?"

And then on July 5th, the Greek people voted overwhelmingly to say, "no." Now technically this was a symbolic vote, because the troika had pulled their offer of the table on June 30th. But yeah, that's how we got to where we are. Now without these payments coming into Greece, there is suddenly a very serious liquidity crisis in Greek banks.

Basically Greek banks may have only 500 million euro left, which is like 45 euro per person in Greece. Many ATMs are out of cash, others can only dispense 10 euro notes because they're out of 20s.

And if this continues, Greece will be forced to print some form of alternate currency to make payments to retirees and government employees.

And that would be the so-called "Grexit," a Greek exit from the Eurozone. And nobody knows quite what would happen then, I mean what the economic implications would be, but also the political and legal ones.

Now Hank, normally in a situation like this - 25 percent unemployment, shrinking economy, liquidity crisis - Greece would just print more money. But they can't, because they're part of the Eurozone, and as previously noted, the European Central Bank decides how much money to print.

And that gets to the root of the problem. The Eurozone wants to be a transnational currency, but each country inside of it answers to their own citizens. Germany doesn't wanna print more money, it would be bad for the German economy, and they're not keen on sending more money to Greece; from their perspective, it's not their fault that Greece can't pay their debts.

But from a Greek perspective, it's hard to see how that country has benefited from these so-called "bailouts." Many Greeks feel that the troika's bailouts really only bought time for other European nations and their banks to distance themselves from Greece's financial problems.

Hank, this inability to decide just how unified they should be is the real existential problem of the Eurozone.

Obviously, Hank, there's a lot of blame to go around here. But in the end, if you can't listen to the narratives of others, if you can't construct an idea of the Eurozone in which all members are members of some "us," then you can't expect to share a continent effectively, let alone a currency.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.