February 26, 2015
One of the little puzzles of the past few years has been why was the reaction of the Greek economy to austerity so much worse than that of other countries? For it is true that other countries (I think particularly of Spain and Portugal) had the same sort of shrinkage of the government budget, had the same (entirely wrong and inappropriate) monetary and currency policies but they did much better. Or at least not as badly. So what was the secret to that Greek economy that made the out turn so awful? And awful it is, Greece has had a fall in GDP akin to what the US had in the Great Depression of the 1930s. The answer, it appears, is that the underlying structure of the Greek economy is such that it just couldn’t take advantage of the meagre benefits that austerity did provide.
The point is made in this NYT piece:
Greece has fared much worse than other eurozone countries that faced a sudden drop in foreign financing, and then enacted similar austerity programs. It lost 26 percent of its G.D.P. from the pre-crisis peak, while Portugal, Ireland and Spain lost no more than 7 percent each. Much of this difference is due to foreign trade.Yes, of course, there’s more to it than only foreign trade. But this is also a large part of the difference:
Finally, the size of companies in Greece is a fundamental structural issue. Industrial capitalism was never strong in Greece, which is a society of small owners and of microbusinesses. Land and homes belong mostly to their occupants, free of mortgage, more so than in any Western country. Self-employment and companies of fewer than 10 employees are much more prevalent than in any other European nation. Only 5 percent of employment in the whole economy occurs in companies with more than 250 employees. Even the main export industry, tourism, consists mostly of medium and small businesses.More