They’re going about it the wrong way – but Greece should vote to leave the euro

Leaving the euro is exactly what Greece needs – but this is an awful way of going about it, says Bengt Saelensminde. It will leave the country bankrupt.


Greece should vote 'No'

This Sunday, the Greek public finally gets a say in things.

The referendum is a bit of a confusing mishmash, but in essence, it asks: do you want to accept the harsh and humiliating terms set by our lenders?

Or will you just say No!'?

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Put in that way, by a government wanting to stick two fingers up at the EU elite, it's hardly surprising that the polls initially suggested a resounding no'.

But this week, as the public faced being unable to get enough or any cash out of their bank machines, the consequences of a bust-up has become all the more real. The polls have started to slide the other way, suggesting this will be a very close call.

The vote is pitched as though it's all about sovereignty. Will they accept being pushed around by lenders, in return for the miserable (but relatively stable) status quo? Or will they take their fate into their own hands?

The trouble is, what isn't being made clear to the Greek public, is that a no' vote won't mean a return to the pre-austerity' days. Despite what Alexis Tsipras has promised in the past, Greeks can't cling on to their current levels of income.

Income is, after all, what this is all about. Greece's lenders demand welfare reform (read: lower state payouts) and tax reform (read: lower wages) essentially a lowering of living standards. And the fact is, a no' vote will bring about an even swifter realignment in income levels than Greece's lenders are asking for. Faced with ejection from the euro and return to the drachma, there will be a far more draconian realignment in income levels. Not to mention losses on savings.

Now, like many commentators, I've long argued that leaving the euro is exactly what Greece needs. But this is an awful way of going about it.

Rather than a planned withdrawal, this sees Greek banks bankrupted. It sees forced nationalisations, and a return to the drachma. That's the only way these guys can print money to recapitalise the banks and to pay the not-insignificant state bills.

Unfortunately, of course, the EU's total unwillingness to consider the voluntary withdrawal from the crackpot currency (my new nickname for the euro) has forced the issue.

For Greece's far left/Marxist government, nationalising the banks and taking control from the centre may not sound like such a terrible prospect. Despite evidence to the contrary, these guys think they can run an economy better than a dumb capitalistic system anyway.

But normal Greeks (and everyone else normal, for that matter) should be horrified by the prospect. The drachma will plunge. Real wages (after the ensuing inflation) will plunge. Living standards will be hammered.

Meanwhile Greece's government will blame everyone else. It'll be the fault of the nasty folk in Brussels who didn't stand behind Greek banks. Or it'll be the US-led delegation from the International Monetary Fund, for demanding repayments and refusing to dole out loans in perpetuity. It'll even be the European judiciary's fault, for not backing Greece's demand to stay within the euro-currency regime.

In short, in the face of a no' vote, things will get very messy. There will be a lot of pain. The government will be forced into an early election.

At which point, it'll all be change and the good news hopefully starts to kick in.

The Greek opportunity this country can recover faster than you think

Many argue that Greece will revert to the impoverished state from which it came. That tax revenues won't magically appear from a public unwilling to pay. They say that even a lower drachma won't help. After all, the tourism industry is already operating at near full capacity you can't cram more holidaymakers onto their islands anyway.

This is utter rot.

What the EU politicians, as well as other europhile refuseniks won't acknowledge, is that it is the euro itself that has robbed the Greek taxman of much of its revenue, and stifled tourism capacity.

Since Greece entered the project, its balance of trade has pushed to ever-higher deficits. By the time of the crisis in 2008, the Greeks were importing €43.3bn more than they were exporting. That's about a quarter of the whole economy.

To put it another way, Greece has exported about a quarter of its jobs and economic activity abroad. Germany, Italy, Russia, China and France (in that order) have been responsible for producing the stuff that Greece doesn't. As well as giving away jobs, they've given away all the associated taxes on labour and corporations.

Given a lower currency, business and jobs will slowly return to Greek shores. The economy can grow and the tax-take recover.

As for the argument that the lower drachma won't help increase Greece's capacity in the key tourism industry this misses the point. The point is, it will bring back profitability, which incidentally, will also provide an incentive to build capacity.

With the lower cost-base provided by the devalued drachma, and with foreigners still spending nice fat euros, profits will soar. The taxman should even be happy!

And the time will come when youngsters, who, faced with 50% unemployment, fled, can return home to build new businesses.

By then, other nations of the periphery will see how the single currency has betrayed them. Exporting jobs, in lieu of ever-increasing national debt cannot go on indefinitely.

Greece is on the right track. The only track. A no' vote on Sunday will mean absolute chaos and misery. Tsipras can forget about his dreams of fixing the economy a la Karl Marx. He won't be given the chance he'll be out of office as sharply as he came in.

Given time, and the election of an appropriate government, Greece will recover, and indeed become the poster child for a post-euro way.

So while the public may not be aware of exactly what they're voting on this Sunday, the ramifications either way are as huge as they are complicated. And speaking as an investor, I shall be sitting this one out.

But if things play out as I expect, then the minute fresh elections are called, I shall be getting out my chequebook. It could be quite an exciting time for Greece... just give it a year or two!

Bengt graduated from Reading University in 1994 and followed up with a master's degree in business economics.


He started stock market investing at the age of 13, and this eventually led to a job in the City of London in 1995. He started on a bond desk at Cantor Fitzgerald and ended up running a desk at stockbroker's Cazenove.


Bengt left the City in 2000 to start up his own import and beauty products business which he still runs today.