May 20, 2012

A Greek Tragedy for us all

Greece is in the news, again.

Actually, it has rarely been out of the news the last couple of years. It gives a new meaning to Greek drama.

This may be its final reckoning. The Greek people are angry with austerity and have voted for parties that would dismantle their contract with Europe. Following their recent election, they have failed to organize a parliament and will have to conduct a second election, with one question — whether to renounce austerity and foreign aid or to stay in the Euro zone.

This Greek tragedy tells us a lot about ourselves. It has also affected us profoundly. The Greek Games have caused world markets to decay. Trillions of dollars of equity has been lost worldwide, from yours and my retirement savings, and, of course, from the 1 percent, too.

The Greeks seem to be playing out one of two strategies. They have heard this saying among bankers. If I default on my $1 million loan, that is my problem. If I default on a $1 billion loan, it becomes the bank's problem. Greece may be banking on being too big to fail, just as our own largest banks' machinations forced the largest corporate bailouts in our history. The theory goes something like this: If the world realizes that Greece's troubles are our troubles, we will have no choice but to bail Greece out on its terms.

Their terms mean an end to austerity. If we succumb, we will be forced to lend Greece more good money after bad and allow them to spend it, ostensibly, on rebuilding their economy. Our own Congress held the same political gun to President Obama's head just three years ago. Obama developed a stimulus plan that, while most economists agreed was too little, was designed to remedy the failing construction industry through infrastructure improvements.

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