A Learning Experience

MADRID – The Dow rose 217 points on Monday, even though Greece missed a $500-million loan payment to the IMF. And the country needs to come up with another $8 billion by July 20, when it’s scheduled to pay back the principal it owes on bonds held by the ECB.

Greece reached an agreement with its creditors on Sunday night that would, in theory, allow it to tap further emergency loans. But in practice, there are two major stumbling blocks…

First, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras faces rebellion in Athens. Many in his coalition government don’t like the terms of the latest deal. They’re already vowing to oppose it when it comes to a crucial vote in parliament on Wednesday.

Second, Greece’s creditors need to come up with a “bridge loan” to tide the country over until the details of its third emergency bailout can be worked out. This is likely to be a bridge to nowhere…

 

 

bridge-to-nowhere-1A literal bridge to nowhere. Amazingly, a great many of these things exist …

Image via lustich.de

 

We are writing this on the streets of the Pláka neighborhood in the heart of Athens, with the Parthenon at our back and the Agora down below. The sun is shining. It is getting hot.

On the opposite sidewalk, there is a tall, lean, and handsome waiter. He is a cross between George Clooney and Omar Sharif, with salted hair swept back from a fine-featured face.

He has found his calling. He stops middle-aged women. He chats with them. He invites them into the restaurant. Smiling broadly and suavely, he escorts them through the door… and turns them over to a plump colleague.

Down the street, two gypsy women – in long, dirty skirts – are smoking a joint. They pass it back and forth. When a suitable tourist approaches, they quickly put it away. They jump to their feet and offer to read palms.

You have no particular reason to care about what goes on in Greece. It is a tiny economy by global standards, with little impact on the rest of the world. And for the U.S., Greece’s importance is vanishingly small. Exports to Greece account for about 0.004% of U.S. GDP.

But it is part of the Great Zombie War… If it doesn’t affect us directly, there are probably things we can learn from it.

 

greek-zombie-1The recent discovery of bodies pinned in graves suggests ancient Greeks had a healthy fear of zombies.

Drawing by D. Weiss

 

Hero or Traitor?

Tsipras came back to town yesterday and was greeted either as a hero or a traitor, depending on how you looked at it. He is certainly a hero to international bankers. He has agreed to play their game by their rules.

The deal he struck in Brussels will continue to shuffle money from lenders to borrowers and back to lenders – and all the zombies along the way. But many of the zombies – not to mention the honest, hard-working citizens of the Hellenic Republic – see him as a traitor.

 

you'll be happyHappy news …

Cartoon by Robert Ariail

 

Hadn’t they just exercised their right as democratic citizens a week ago? Hadn’t they clearly expressed themselves? Didn’t they say to the bankers loud and clear: Drop dead!

To fully understand the Greek front of the Great Zombie War you have to realize that this is mostly a battle between two zombie factions.

On the one side, there are the big, international zombies who want to continue to earn fees by lending money to bad credit risks. On the other side are the smaller local zombies, who hope to keep taking the money with no intention of ever giving it back.

 

diogenes_in_der_tonne_2407105Diogenes starts burning the furniture …

Cartoon by Paolo Calleri

 

“The Greeks peaked in the time of Aristotle,” said a companion at dinner. “It’s been downhill ever since.”

But you can’t accuse the Greeks of not being clever. They happily take the Northern Europeans’ money – whether from tourists or bankers. It’s all the same to them.

“They’ve got a special retirement system in Greece, like your Social Security system,” continued our friend.

“If you are in a career that is considered ‘hazardous’ you are allowed to retire with full benefits when you are only 53 years old.

“And guess what they consider hazardous? All kinds of things… including cutting hair. They get so much money that we’ve seen three generations, all living on one retirement pension.”

We gave the man another “thank you” and went off.

 

protests, syntagmaNew protests in Syntagma square – this time, Tsipras is the target …

Photo credit: Getty Images

Greek Zombies Take to the Streets

Last night, the retired hairdressers, along with the overpaid hewers of wood and carriers of water – the little local zombies – gathered in Syntagma Square to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with Tsipras and his government.

They claimed he had sold them out in Brussels. Tomorrow, the remonstrations will continue with a 24-hour strike by civil servants. The banks were originally supposed to be closed for a maximum of a week. Already, their doors have been barred for double that time.

Originally, they were closed to slow the outflow of deposits. Now, they are closed because they are broke. That’s the problem with not being in charge of your currency: You can’t print more when you need it.

And if the voters desert Tsipras… or the bridge loan collapses… the Greeks may become desperate. What a pity we had to leave, just when it was getting interesting!

 

athens-strikeGreek bureaucrats are back in strike mode

Photo credit: Milos Bicanski

 

The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

 

 

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3 Responses to “What I Learned Over Dinner in Athens Last Night …”

  • mantrid:

    “That’s the problem with not being in charge of your currency: You can’t print more when you need it.”

    “need it” for what? keeping all the zombies afloat? so far euro is doing pretty good job of unmasking the zombies, isn’t it? it started with PIIGS and will inevtiably go for the “core”. saying euro failed economically is like saying unmasking zombies is bad for economy!

    • VB:

      Well, there are only two ways of dealing with unpayable government debts – either default on them by refusing to pay, or default on them by paying them in devalued currency. Not being able to devalue one’s currency takes the second option out.

      • mantrid:

        good, because the second option evaporates the middle class (Stalin liked this idea to make post-WW2 Hungary hiperinflate and get rid of middle class to make NKVD mission easier), their saving, their real saving and real capital needed for economic recovery. honest old-school default is fine. default by devaluation has severe side effects, including social oppression and economic waste in terms of real capital!

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