Published: Monday, 3 Oct 2011 | 6:11 PM ET
Drowning in red ink, Greece has nowhere to turn to revive the economic growth that might put its debt on a sustainable trajectory, reassure angry foreign creditors and offer hope to its recession-weary citizens.
Instead, the country finds itself in a vicious circle—a death spiral, some would say—in which it is borrowing ever more to keep up on its existing debts, crushing growth in the process and thereby worsening its all-important ratio of debt-to-gross domestic product.
Springing the debt trap would not be a miracle cure either: a manageable level of borrowing is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for Greece to start restoring competitiveness and resume growth after three years of economic contraction.
"If there was a deus ex machina tomorrow and you halved Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio overnight, there'd obviously be a huge benefit in terms of cash flow," said George Magnus, senior economic adviser to UBS in London.
"So you can alleviate the financial stress on Greece quite quickly and effectively, but I don't think that in and of itself means the economy is going to grow," he said.
New figures dramatize Athens's bind. As recently as July, the International Monetary Fund was forecasting that Greece would eke out 0.6 percent growth next year. Just 10 weeks later, it reckons the economy will in fact shrink 2.5 percent in 2012 after a 5.5 percent slump this year.