Many wonder if history might tell us anything about how the Eurozone crisis might be resolved.A few months ago, the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dug up a quasi-travel guide on Greece written in 1858 by the French writer Edmond About.
Titled Contemporary Greece, the book discusses everything from the Attic climate to modern Hellenic culture.
It also discusses the state of Greece’s finances, such as they were.
As it turns out, Greece’s books 154 years ago bear an eerily striking resemblance to those of today — which is to say, they were in ruins.
Here’s how that chapter on finances begins (translation ours):
“Greece is the only known example of a still-existing country that’s been completely insolvent since its birth.
“If France or England found themselves in this situation for just one year, we’d say it was a terrible catastrophe. Greece has lived more than 20 years in peace with bankruptcy. Every single one of its budgets, from the first to the last, has been in the red.”
He continues, discussing how the country is able to support itself: namely, the kindness of others:
“Greece’s sponsor countries [Britain, France and Russia] have had to guarantee its solvency to allow it to negotiate external debt.
“The resources furnished by this borrowing have been wasted by the government without any fruit for the country, and, once the money is spent, it’s been up to the debtors, out of pure benevolence, pay the interest. Greece could not ever pay it.
About goes on to discuss the country’s chaotic tax collecting regime (average Greeks “take pride” in not paying them), corrupt civil servants and overly influential aristocratic class.
“Today, it’s given up all hope of self-sufficiency,” About writes.
Pretty much speaks for itself.