Euro a victim of Greece's slippery slide

The Life: A review of the book, Greece's 'Odious' Debt, and how the country got into its recent troubles.

If you're still wondering how an Aegean wonderland of sun, sea and sand slid into a money pit and began dragging the euro with it, pick up Jason Manolopoulos's book Greece's 'Odious' Debt.

Blunt, rigorous and shrewd, Manolopoulos resembles a wise uncle explaining how a ne'er-do-well cousin gambled away the family's future.

He spares his compatriots no embarrassment, yet recalls in memorable detail how fickle German friends and French moneylenders egged them on.

Manolopoulos is a hedge-fund manager who specialises in emerging markets at a firm called Dromeus Capital Group. As he sees it, Greece is more emerging than developed and had no business joining the euro to begin with.

Forget the clever "Western branding" of his homeland as the cradle of philosophy and government by the demos.

Greece today has become a kleptocracy, not a democracy in the northern European sense, Manolopoulos says.

The latest EU rescue package, seen in this light, marks little more than an attempt to bolt a bank's doors after a team of safecrackers has cleaned out the vaults.

Manolopoulos lays out his case with statistics, anecdotes and mordant asides.

Default, he says, has long been inevitable. When Greece joined the euro in 2001, it had an undiversified economy that relied on tourism, shipping and agriculture.

The country had much in common with Argentina a decade earlier, when the government of Carlos Menem, the president, pegged the peso to the dollar

And that, he argues, is the nub of the matter.

The euro, for Greece, is an unsustainable currency peg - a link that initially created an appearance of wealth by allowing the country to borrow in a hard currency that it could ill afford to repay. As with Argentina in the 1990s, debt-fuelled spending masked a lack of sustainable growth.

Much of the money was squandered, swallowed up by what Manolopoulos calls Hellenic Peronism, or the practice of distributing subsidies and favours to interest groups instead of creating wealth.

James Pressley, Bloomberg News

Published: August 4, 2011 04:00 AM


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