How Greece's Debt Crisis Affects America

The scenario for the Greek economy has dire implications for America and the world.

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Such a collapse would have two major potential effects. First, a credit crunch would spread to other European countries that have vulnerable economies. For example, "if you had a lot of capital flight out of Greece, all of a sudden people in Spain say, 'We're going to be next,' " says Hanke.

Second, the credit crunch would increase the likelihood of Greece defaulting on its debt. In such a scenario, Greece could temporarily leave the euro zone and return to its former currency, the drachma, which would be heavily devalued against the euro.

There are still several signs that Greece can use the market to navigate out of the crisis without a default. Last week, Athens sold 10 billion euros of 10-year sovereign bonds to foreign investors. But an amount of 23 billion euros is needed to meet government obligations through May. And Greece has only begun to implement changes to its budget that will bring it out of a fiscal hole. Earlier this month, the government announced a plan of cuts to wages of government employees, tax hikes on tobacco and alcohol, and other measures expected to raise 4.8 billion euros. But these steps will reduce Greece's budget deficit by only 2 percent of GDP. It now stands at 12.7 percent of GDP, well above the European Union's target of 3 percent. Even the changes so far have not been easy politically. Several of the country's labor unions are striking in protest of the spending cuts and tax increases.

Perhaps, however, Greece can breathe its biggest sigh of relief over the fact that the international investors who recoiled in horror over the country's fiscal problems just a few months ago appear now to be softening their stance. Investors trade credit-default swaps on Greek sovereign debts, which are contracts that function as a kind of insurance on the chance the government will default. According to credit-default-swap prices from financial information company Markit, the annual cost to insure a five-year government bond for Greece hit a high of $425,000 on February 4. That was a 67 percent increase from the previous three months. But as of March 9, the cost had fallen to $289,000, down to the levels of December.