Misery loves company, or so it is said. As the Greeks wrestle with a baffling referendum and ATMs that yield little money, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has announced a debt of $72-billion (U.S.) that is "not payable," according to its candid governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla.
This American territory is beset by many ills. One is migration to the mainland United States, where there is much more work. And there used to be a very large presence there of the American armed forces and thus a lot of spending, but most of that is gone.
The Obama administration is showing no interest in a bailout. But in contrast to Greece and the euro zone, there is no talk of a Puerto Rixit (the dollar is the U.S. dollar, just with different art on the bills) or of a return to the Puerto Rican peso, which was last used at the end of the 19th century, when the Americans conquered the island after a war with Spain.
One major misfortune for Puerto Rico was a series of raises in the minimum wage for the whole of the U.S., which eliminated a lot of potential low-wage workers. That is one of the reasons that the island has a very low ratio of people employed or looking for work compared to the population as a whole.
Thank goodness for the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, however. Greece, as a sovereign nation-state (more or less), can't dispose of itself as if it were an insolvent company. And one of the original clauses of the U.S. Constitution forbids state governments from passing a "law impairing the obligation of contracts," and that is exactly what bankruptcy is designed to do. But U.S. states do sometimes think of bankruptcy; Illinois would be a prime candidate now.
Congress could amend the federal Bankruptcy Code to let a territory like Puerto Rico declare insolvency. Many cities have done so. Recently, it worked out fairly well for Detroit in a set of sweeping changes.
Greece and the European Union, on the other hand, would need enormous goodwill and reasonableness to do anything similar.