Who is really being bailed out in Greece?

Analysis: An estimated 90 percent of bailout funds have gone to financial institutions – not to help Greek residents

Greece needs a cash infusion 50 billion euros ($55 billion) over the next three years to recover from its debt crisis and stabilize the economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Thursday.

But Greece already received 240 billion euros ($265 billion) in bailouts in the last five years — a sum greater than the country’s GDP. Yet that massive injection of cash has done little to mitigate the suffering of the Greek people.

More than a quarter of the workforce remains unemployed, food insecurity is on the rise, and financial analysts say the country’s public infrastructure is badly underfunded. In effect, Greek citizens are still waiting for a bailout.

So where did all that money from Greece’s first two rescue packages go? Back to creditors, mostly.

“This is a giant creditor-debtor standoff,” said Mark Blyth, a professor of political economy at Brown University and the author of “Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea.” “The creditors have been made whole.”

It is difficult to track Greece’s expenditures with precision, but multiple analysts say roughly 90 percent of the nation’s bailout cash has been eaten up by financial institutions. In a widely cited piece on the English-language site MacroPolis, Greek economics writer Yannis Mouzakis calculated that close to 11 percent of the funds, or 27 billion euros, went to the government’s “operational needs,” significantly less than was spent on maturing debt obligations (81.3 billion euros) and recapitalizing Greek banks (48.2 billion euros).

The Jubilee Debt Campaign — an advocacy group that argues Greece and other poorer nations should have their debt canceled — reached a similar conclusion in its analysis of IMF data. Jubilee economist Tim Jones calculated that Greece has spent more than 230 billion euros on expenditures like debt service and propping up Greek banks.

“This is the same unjust response to a financial crisis as happened across much of the developing world in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said in a January statement. "Debt needs to be canceled, and we need a new process for dealing with debt crises so that lenders do not continue to be bailed out, leaving the cost with the public and incentivizing more reckless lending and turmoil.”

The Greek government was 317 billion euros in debt at the end of last year, Jones calculated. Of that amount, 247.8 billion euros — about 78 percent — is owed to the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank (ECB). The IMF, ECB and European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, are collectively known as the troika, the group of international institutions charged with managing the Greek debt crisis.

Greece missed the deadline for an IMF loan payment Tuesday night. Government officials and lenders are still haggling over the conditions for another bailout, with Greece requesting another loan of 29 billion euros.

If Greece defaulted entirely on its loans, its largest creditors would be able to absorb the loss, said Anil Kashyap, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“I think it’s politics more than economics,” he said. “The amounts of money involved here are just not that big compared to all these other institutions.”

The IMF commands more than $1 trillion in total bailout funds. Greece accounts for roughly 2 percent of economic activity in the eurozone.

“The actual fiscal cost [to the European Union] of Greece blowing up isn’t that big a deal,” Kashyap said. The bigger problem for creditors with allowing Greece to default would be political, not financial, he added.

“Say they don’t vote ‘yes’ on the referendum and they really exit the euro,” he said. “The next time some country gets into trouble, there would be immediate concern over whether they are going to follow what Greece did.”

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