by Paul Krugman
New York Times
May 4, 2010
Is there anything more to say about Greece? Actually, I think so.
Observers like Charles Wyplosz, who point out that the adjustment being demanded of Greece is extraordinary and hard to see happening, are right. And yet .. one thing I haven’t seen pointed out sufficiently is that a debt restructuring, or even a complete cessation of debt service, wouldn’t do all that much to ease the burden.
Consider what Greece would get if it simply stopped paying any interest or principal on its debt. All it would have to do then is run a zero primary deficit — taking in as much in taxes as it spends on things other than interest on its debt. But here’s the thing: Greece is currently running a huge primary deficit — 8.5 percent of GDP in 2009. So even a complete debt default wouldn’t save Greece from the necessity of savage fiscal austerity.
It follows, then, that a debt restructuring wouldn’t help all that much — not unless you believe that getting forgiveness on much of Greece’s existing debt would make it possible to take on substantial new debt, which doesn’t seem very likely.