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Watch Out for Greek Debt!

The cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus by Myron with “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus symbolizing debt at other, cowering European countries.
The cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus by Myron with “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus symbolizing debt at other, cowering European countries.

The political cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus, with the word “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus, which symbolizes debt, at other cowering European countries (Sooke). The statue is posed as if it is about to hurl the discus, and all of the statues around it are ducking to avoid getting hit. This cartoon symbolizes how the other countries are avoiding getting “hit” by the negative consequences of Greek debt and having all of their political-economic progress regress (“Watch out for Greek Debt!”). The cartoon emphasizes the potentially devastating effects of Greek debt for other European countries in the Eurozone.

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political partnership between twenty-eight European countries that was created in the aftermath of World War II. The intent behind the creation of the EU is that countries that trade with each other become economically interdependent and therefore more likely to avoid conflict. The establishment of the EU brought about the creation of the euro, the single currency used across the twenty-eight countries (“The EU in brief”). Greece is one of the many members of the EU, along with Ireland, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Portugal, to name a few (“Countries in the EU and EEA”). Greece in particular, however, is singled out in this cartoon as the most vulnerable as well as the most threatening member of the bunch.

Greece is in the midst of a debt crisis that could potentially crumble the economies of its European neighbors. After Wall Street crashed in 2008, Greece became the center of Europe’s debt crisis. Greece admitted that it had been understating its deficit figures for years and suddenly found itself shut out from borrowing in financial markets, leading the country toward bankruptcy. This sudden decline put Europe on the verge of a new financial crisis. To avoid collapse, the financial troika – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission – issued the first of two international bailouts for Greece, which would eventually total more than $264 billion in today’s exchange rates. “Greece’s relations with Europe are in a fragile state, and several of its leaders are showing impatience” (“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained”).

The other countries depicted in the cartoon are not chosen at random either. Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain – collectively called “The PIGS”– are known for having “binged on cheap debt” and “allowed citizens’ benefits to go well beyond the means of their governments.” In 2010, the PIGS were going bankrupt at a fast rate and threatened the continued existence of the euro and the entire European project. However, since then, all of the PIGS except for Greece are returning to economic health (Dawber). Now Greece is putting them at risk of relapsing into economic instability, threatening the euro in the process. This is symbolized in the cartoon as “Greece” throwing a discus of “debt” at its neighboring European countries.

There is coincidental irony in the name of the statue, Discobolus, and the subject matter involved. The suffix “obolus” means “a silver coin or unit of weight equal to one sixth of a drachma, formerly used in ancient Greece” (“obolus”). It is ironic that a discus that symbolizes a Greek drachma has “debt” written on it, as if foreshadowing that Greece being a part of the EU and using the euro as its currency has a formidable future of debt crisis.

The issues illustrated in Watch Out for Greek Debt! have a lot of similarity to the issues depicted in the political cartoon If They Would Exchange Presents by John Knott (Knott 2). Published on Christmas Eve 1931, Knott’s cartoon shows Uncle Sam of the United States offering a Christmas gift of war debt revisions to a queen representing Europe; and in the generous spirit of the season, she is offering the gift of disarmament in exchange.

In the twenty-first century, Greece is in debt to other countries much like Germany was in the aftermath of World War I. In the 1930s, the United States wanted Germany and the rest of Europe to disarm so that the funds going toward armament could instead go toward debt repayment; thus, in If They Would Exchange Presents, Europe’s gift to the U.S. was disarmament. In Knott’s cartoon, Germany, along with the rest of the indebted European nations, was asking for war debt revisions so that their debt load wasn’t so crippling. Germany was blamed for the damages and costs of World War I and was required to pay back the costs to the Allied nations. Repayment obligations were so onerous that they needed a moratorium and debt revisions to ever back on their feet. Similarly, in Watch Out for Greek Debt!, Greece is held responsible for threatening Europe’s economy, and needs bailouts for its crippling debt like Germany was asking for war debt revisions. “The bailout money mainly goes toward paying off Greece’s international loans, rather than making its way into the economy. And the government still has a staggering debt load that it cannot begin to pay down unless a recovery takes hold” (“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained”).

The humor of comparing these two cartoons, and particularly comparing twenty-first century Germany and Greece, is that Germany is now the poster-child for Greece to model itself after. “Germany has fewer outstanding tax debts than any other country in Europe, while Greece has more than any other. That difference not only helps Germany enjoy a far more fiscally sound position than Greece, but it offers a stark contrast between a disciplined government and one that historically has been hardly disciplined” (O’Brien). It is ironic that Germany, which once was economically unstable and deeply indebted to other countries, is now an example of European economic health, the example to which Greece aspires.

Lastly, in Watch Out for Greek Debt!, Greece has the potential of putting contemporary Europe in as much debt and economic instability as in the 1930s because of the region’s shared economic interdependence on the euro. The Knott cartoon shows Europe of that era requesting war debt revisions because it is in an economic rut. Contemporary Europe could potentially descend into similar economic turmoil because if Greece were to collapse, then the euro could collapse with them, causing a domino effect.

Works Cited

“Countries in the EU and EEA.” GOV.UK. Gov.UK, 24 July 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Dawber, Alistair. “While Greece Flails, Are the Rest of the Stricken Pigs Taking Off?” Independent. Independent, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“The EU in Brief.” Europa. European Commission, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained.” The New York Times. New York Times, 31 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John. “If They Would Exchange Presents.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 24 Dec. 1931, sec. 2: 10. Print.

“Obolus.” American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed. N.p.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. The Free Dictionary. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

O’Brien, Matt. “7 Key Things to Know about Greece’s Debt Crisis and What Happens Next.” The Washington Post. N.p., 5 July 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Sooke, Alastair. “The Discobolus: Greeks, Nazis and the Body Beautiful.” BBC. BBC, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“Watch out for Greek Debt!” Cartoon. Enikos. N.p., 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.