What’s the state of the Greek crisis? I have no idea, or at any rate no idea beyond what any diligent reader of press reports might glean. I do, however, have a pretty good idea of what Greece is asking for on the fiscal side, and it might be useful to talk about the arithmetic behind that position.
Here’s the basic point: Greece has, through incredible sacrifice, managed to achieve a primary budget surplus — a surplus excluding interest payments — despite a depression-level slump. That surplus is believed to be currently running at about 1.5 percent of GDP. The Greek government is not calling for a return to primary deficits; as I understand it, it is merely proposing that it be allowed to stabilize the surplus at that level, as opposed to raising it to 4.5 percent of GDP, a number that has few precedents in history.