As Georgians were celebrating our country's 239th birthday this past weekend, the people of Greece were voting in a referendum that will likely force the question if they will remain part of the European Union. The image of a country only slightly larger than our state deciding if it wants independence was a bit more interesting given that those on our side of the Atlantic have been having a very public grappling with our Southern history and the symbols of a former attempt at independence. The truth is, it's been three weeks of intense imagery and public discussion about who we are as Americans. We've had the Supreme Court decide cases on gay marriage and Obamacare that revealed and perhaps expanded divides between many of us. These cases came at a time when brutal murders in a Charleston church had many Southerners no longer willing to defend the public display of the Confederate battle flag.
For the most part, one can look at the relatively uniform surrender of the battle flag on most government property as a sign of American unity. One that says we of different backgrounds are of one nation. There was a clear winner in the War Between the States and it was us, America. The country we are now all a part of. The one that celebrated her birthday as a united country over the weekend.
But still, there is this somewhat troubling comparison with Greece and its relationship with the EU as a backdrop to our celebration. Greece voters went to the polls Sunday and voted "no" to accepting a financing deal with terms set by the European Commission and European Central Bank. While the offer they were voting on was technically no longer on the table, the referendum was widely interpreted as "Yes" meaning the Greeks would continue on a program of fiscal austerity as demanded by the EU, and "No" to signify Greek independence.
The EU has always acted more as a confederation than as a single country. Each nation has largely maintained its own identity, uniting only on major issues such as trade, regulation, and fiscal and monetary policy. And many, like Greece, have taken great liberties with the latter. The EU and the International Monetary Fund that have been largely funding Greek deficits have finally said "enough."
It will be an interesting week as the next moves unfold. Greece and its 11 million people have a Gross Domestic Product of $242 billion. Our state of Georgia and its 10 million residents, by comparison, are estimated to have a Gross State Product of $472 billion by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Greece's financial problem, at its root, is that the national debt is 175 percent of the GDP. They have a bloated pension system, don't collect many of the taxes they assess, and can't pay for the many government programs and make payments on their growing debts as well. As such, Greece's bond ratings are abysmal, with Standard and Poor's downgrading them last week to CCC minus. We Georgians are a bit more fortunate. We have an AAA bond rating with all three rating agencies.
We Georgians now have a strong national identity, which we celebrated this weekend. We unite under the Stars and Stripes as Americans. Being a Georgian determines a lot of what I eat, and what I and many of my neighbors sound like. But our nationality is that of one nation. It's the one whose currency I carry and spend. It's the one that can decide if we go to war or not. It's the one that sets rules for trade and most directly affects our overall economic condition.
Through the good times and bad, we are who we are primarily because we as a people have been united for 239 years and counting. We have been divided before, many times over much more serious items than we've faced the last few weeks.
We got through it, and we'll get through our current differences as well. We do this because we're Americans. That means despite our current differences or short-sighted thoughts that current frustrations would like us to do something similar to the Greeks, we're still the nation that other countries envy and wish they could be.
That's still worth a lot. Happy birthday to us.