Will New Government Resolve Greece's Debt Crisis?


Greece has seen a series of demonstrations and general strikes since 2010, first sparked by plans to cut public spending and raise taxes as part of the nation's austerity measures.
The Greeks held another national election on June 17 and it now appears that a coalition government can be pieced together.

It is not yet clear, however, what, if anything, the fragile, politics-makes-strange-bedfellows confederacy government will be able to do about Greece's sovereign debt crisis.

Most everyone who can listen to the news on television or read about it on the Internet knows that Greece is "in hock up to its eyes" and that the primary holders of the notes – the troika (European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank) – expect the new alliance government to show at least a modicum of good faith and address these financial concerns in practical and meaningful ways.

Two proposed and seemingly contradictory solutions to this crisis are usually identified.

They are severe austerity measures, designed to make the government less wasteful and more efficient, and growth measures, intended to inspire renewed energy, activity, investment and profit from business, both within and outside the country.

What no one knows at this point is whether Greece's new patchwork government will or even can be held accountable for what is referred to as sovereign debt.

This is government debt, including all outstanding indebtedness – bonds, bills and other financial instruments and obligations issued by a country. In many countries, this indebtedness has grown rapidly in recent years.

Apparently, sovereign debt is unlike personal debt or corporate debt. Those who understand this well point out that the catch with sovereign debt is that it is difficult to hold the "debtors" accountable.

While everyone agrees that a default is not a good thing, when this happens with governments, there seems almost no recourse for the debt holders.

Certainly, default will make it harder for a country to borrow in the future, but are there no other direct consequences for the defaulting government?

What are you going to do? Repossess the country? Who are you going to call to evict the Greeks from Greece?

Because all governments borrow, this kind of debt is generally assumed to be high-quality debt because governments are unlikely to default on their obligations. But what happens when they do? Time (and the media) will tell!

As a person who has lived in Greece for seven years and who remains here out of a strong sense of divine calling to serve among Albanian immigrants in this troubled, ancient, yet modern context, I am actually thinking about another kind of sovereign debt.

While much of public thinking is focused on the debt from the Greeks, today I am reflecting on the words of the Apostle Paul who, years ago, spoke of a debt to the Greeks.

In his inspired Letter to the Romans (1:14), the most prominent among the early missionaries acknowledged that he was a debtor, "both to the Greeks and to the non-Greeks ..."

Paul felt a deep and divine sense of obligation to preach and live the Gospel, as a result of his personal call from a sovereign God who cares for all of humanity.

This personal indebtedness is similar to governmental debt in one significant way.

Short of personal integrity and a commitment and willingness to repay, these profound and powerful obligations are essentially unenforceable.

It is out of our own sense of sovereign debt that we are now in Greece, seeking to be the presence of Christ.

Bob Newell is ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. This article is taken from one that first appeared in the June 2012 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell's monthly electronic newsletter.

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