The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Greece and Germany just don’t get along, in 15 charts

On Sunday, Greek voters will head to the polls to decide whether to endorse an austerity program that Europe demands the country put in place in exchange for continued financial assistance. If Greek voters say "yes," the bailout will continue and Greece's ruling party, Syriza, which strongly opposes the program, will likely step down from power. If voters say "no," the bailout will end and Greece will may very well leave the euro zone, a bitter milestone in the currency union's short history.

The referendum is the culmination of years of tussling between Greece and Europe, though when we say Europe, we really mean Germany, the euro zone's economic behemoth. Despite a crisis that has sometimes threatened the global economy — and maybe today, still does — Greece and Germany have just not been able to get along. Both certainly understand the ramifications: for Greece, years more of what has already become a Great Depression; and for Germany, its reputation as the linchpin of Europe.

The Germans insist on a tough austerity program in order to continue aiding Greece. Syriza says it understands the need to get the country's financial house in order, but demands the flexibility to do so in a way that it feels is right. Whether Greece's voters have truly had enough of Germany's mandates will be revealed Sunday. Here's a guide to the data on why Germany and Greece are such different countries, among the factors that have made it difficult for them to see eye-to-eye on the most important questions facing Europe.

Two vastly different economies

Despite the difference, both countries share a troubling trend: a shrinking population. Europe is experiencing a demographic time bomb as the continent ages and birth rates fall, leading to questions about whether there will be enough workers to power a dynamic economy in the decades to come.

In recent years, Germany has gotten richer, continuing decades of growth. But Greece has become much poorer.

The future gap seems even worse because the youth unemployment rate in Greece is sky-high. Being unemployed while young tends to stick with workers, depressing their wages and opportunities for years. As a result, the future of employment in Greece looks extremely bleak.

A philosophical interlude

Why Germany is prosperous and Greece isn't

Its biggest export is tourism, but that also makes it vulnerable. Since Greece is on the euro, it can have trouble competing with other European tourist destinations. That's one reason some argue that if Greece leaves the euro and returns to its old currency, the drachma, it will be good for the country: The drachma will certainly plunge in value, and it'll be much cheaper for foreigners to come visit Athens and the Greek islands, making the country more competitive.

This comparison may say more about the difference between Germany and Greece's situations than any other. Germany has fewer outstanding tax debts than any other country in Europe, while Greece has more than any other. In other words, Germany has had almost no problem when it comes to taxpayers paying their bills due to the government, while Greece has had an unparalleled challenge.

That difference not only helps Germany enjoy a far more fiscally sound position than Greece, but it offers a stark contrast between a disciplined government and one that historically has been hardly disciplined at all.

A safe-haven and a hotspot

In recent years, however, Greece's debt ballooned. Now that it is facing a crisis, it has to pay far more to borrow money. Meanwhile, investors treat German debt as nearly risk-free.

A sports interlude

While Greece may have a philosophical advantage, at least to some degree, Germany has long dominated in soccer, hosting one of the best teams in the world. The Greeks have had their high moments, placing among the top 10  in certain years, but generally have struggled in the bottom rungs of FIFA rankings.

Shades of gray in two economies

Two nations, two different experiences

In any case, the good news is both countries have made progress in reducing fatalities over the past decade.

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