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Policy Note 2015/2 | February 2015

The Greek Public Debt Problem

The Greek economic crisis started as a public debt crisis five years ago. However, despite austerity and a bold “haircut,” public debt is now around 175 percent of Greek GDP. In this policy note, we argue that Greece’s public debt is clearly unsustainable, and that a significant restructuring of this debt is needed in order for the Greek economy to start growing again. Insistence on maintaining the current policy stance is not justifiable on either pragmatic or moral grounds.

The experience of Germany in the early post–World War II period provides some useful insights for the way forward. In the aftermath of the war, there was a sweeping cancellation of the country’s public and foreign debt, which was part of a wider plan for the economic and political reconstruction of Germany and Europe. Seven decades later, while a solution to the unsustainability of the Greek public debt is a necessary condition for resolving the Greek and European crisis, it is not, in itself, sufficient. As the postwar experience shows, a broader agenda that deals with both Greece’s domestic economic malaise and the structural imbalances in the eurozone is also of vital importance.

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