Caught between Scylla and Charybdis, Greece must choose the lesser evil.

Caught between Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters noted by Homer; later Greek tradition sited them on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Scylla was rationalized as a rock shoal (described as a six-headed sea monster) on the Italian side of the strait and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. They were regarded as a sea hazard located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. According to Homer, Odysseus was forced to choose which monster to confront while passing through the strait; he opted to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship in the whirlpool.

Greek mythology: Caught between Scylla (six-headed sea monster) and Charybdis (deadly whirlpool). Odysseus chose to sacrifice some of his men to Scylla, avoiding the possible loss of  ship and crew to Charybdis.

The Homeric lessons of Greek mythology: A practical guide for modern Greece.

Tomorrow, June 17th, the people of Greece will cast ballots to decide the economic future of their nation. They face two very unpleasant choices.

More sacrifice and extreme budget cuts

First, their electorate can accept the austerity measures mandated by Germany, and other participants within the European Union, ensuring many lean years of slashed budgets within a stripped down national economy. Greece’s gross domestic product has withered, social programs have fallen to the axe, and low-paying jobs remain scarce, even to overqualified candidates. Their banks have had to stave off occasional runs in a stagnating market that resembles a good ol’ fashioned depression. Who would vote for more of the same?

Default on massive debt to the E.U. with new focus on domestic spending.

On the other hand, Greece may decide to default on their gazillion euro debt to the European Union, dumping the euro-based economy to take their chances on a return to the drachma. Their potential departure from the euro zone could set off a series of ruptures that herald a new economic ice age for the region’s vulnerable financial markets.

Believe it or not, Sunday’s vote on the other side of the globe could actually affect your future job prospects in The States. This is a scary, complex issue with no easy answers. Nobody gets a free ride on our limping global economy. Countries that fail to manage debt responsibly compromise the fates and futures of other nations, while risking financial reprisals and new peril from free-market exile.

Rather than trying to explain this one, I’ll let the New York Times’ infographic do the talking.

Understanding the European Crisis Now – Graphic – NYTimes.com

“Because the banking systems are much larger than the economies of their home countries, the governments lack the ready resources to prop up banks in trouble.

Until recently, Spain’s sovereign debt was roughly the same as Germany’s as a percentage of economic output, according to the International Monetary Fund.

But Spain has Europe’s highest unemployment rate and is once again in recession. As its banks have deteriorated, Spain has been forced to seek assistance for them from elsewhere in Europe.”


Sources: European Central Bank; Eurostat; International Monetary Fund; Deloitte; Haver Analytics, via AllianceBernstein; Institute of Empirical Economic Research, University of Osnabrück

Related articles

Greeks face a Homeric dilemma (wordscover.me)

Europe crisis spreads as Merkel resists big steps

Economically-sound Germany at risk if Greece falters (cbsnews.com)

The European countdown (bbc.co.uk)


2 comments on “Caught between Scylla and Charybdis, Greece must choose the lesser evil.

  1. Interesting. I hope you write a follow up about this after their vote.

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