Many analysts are also pointing out that Greece might be a “canary in the coal mine” for many other western nations. The recession has caused many nations to run up deficits as they attempt to stimulate their national economies. Around the world, countries are finding that they can no longer afford expensive social programs and lavish salaries for public workers. As European research institute GaveKal noted, “If Greece was the birthplace of democracy, the question now is whether it will be the graveyard of social democracy” [http://bit.ly/9aVNzu].
The total Greek debt is now estimated to be at approximately 125% GDP [http://bit.ly/cD5ghY]. That means that Greece owes more than it can produce in one and one-fourth years. The Greek deficit is currently estimated at 13.6% GDP.
How does that contrast with the United States? The US debt is at 87.3% GDP and will soon reach 90%, the point at which the debt’s drag on the economy will increase markedly [http://bit.ly/c7EuJM]. The US is not far behind Greece in budget deficits. The federal budget deficit for 2009 was 9.9% [http://bit.ly/4riOem]. Given the spending habits of the current administration and congress, the US deficit and debt are both likely to continue increasing. As the numbers of federal employees increase, along with increasing federal pay rates and generous government pensions, the US is headed down the Greek road.
The US does enjoy several advantages over Greece. One is that US debt ratings are still good enough to garner low interest rates. There have been indications, however, that the US is in danger of being downgraded to a riskier status. Additionally, the US controls its own money supply. Unlike Greece, the US can print more money to pay its debts, although this would result in inflation (devalued and cheaper dollars).
The situation is different for many of the states, however. California, one of the leading basket case economies in the US, bears a striking resemblance to Greece. California is plagued by expensive government employee wages and pensions as well as costly social services. Government employee unions resist attempts to cut spending. Nevertheless, in 2009 California passed its own “austerity package” of tax hikes and spending cuts after it was forced to resort to paying state debts with IOUs. Like Greece, California also cannot manipulate its money supply since it uses the dollar. California’s 2010 budget shortfall was 56% of its total budget [http://bit.ly/5GfiaO]. If the situation does not improve, California may ultimately face the stark choice of begging for a federal bailout or a state bankruptcy.
In our own state of Georgia, we have also been hit hard by the economy. Georgia faces a budget deficit and shortfall as well. Georgia’s estimated budget shortfall for 2010 is 26% of the general budget. The state government is enacting deep budget cuts in education, transportation and health care.
Faced with a huge financial crisis, the states are adopting the Greek method of austerity measures while also relying on assistance from the federal government. In contrast, the federal government continues to grow and spend at a rate that dwarfs historical precedent. Ultimately, the bills will also come due to the federal government and the nation will face the painful realization that nothing is for free, including government services.