Greece needs about 190 billion euros ($212 billion) to bring down its debt to the manageable level of 70 percent of gross domestic product. That’s about 48 percent of the five companies’ combined cash stash. For paying down the debt, Greece could reward the firms with a special deal on corporate taxes, somewhat like the one Apple now enjoys in Ireland. That sweetheart deal is being investigated by the European Union and is probably doomed. Yet Greece’s case is different: The EU, as one of the country’s biggest creditors, might be inclined to make a special dispensation to the American companies for helping solve the Greek problem. The U.S. might have some objections, but, as the biggest shareholder in the International Monetary Fund, it, too, stands to lose money if Greece defaults, and the destabilization brought on by a Grexit is certainly not in U.S. interests.
In exchange for less than half of their cash — and just 13 percent more than it would cost to pay U.S. taxes — the companies would receive an indefinite, ironclad guarantee of low taxes on non-U.S. operations. Not a bad deal.
Greece, for its part, would get debt relief, plus the companies’ European headquarters. Many executives would probably welcome the move to a warm seaside, and Greece would have the beginnings of a powerful tech cluster, which would draw in other companies and create service jobs.