Thursday, February 04, 2010
Today's commentary appearing in Spiegel Online about the ongoing mess in Greece contains a disturbing analogy about debt - Lehman Brothers in 2008 and Greece in 2010:
(The situation is reminiscent of) Lehman Brothers, that seemingly unimportant New York investment bank whose September 2008 bankruptcy led the world into a crisis that is still affecting us. First came Lehman and the banking crisis, now it's Greece and its national crisis. History is repeating itself.The European Union is certainly being put to the test and it is not at all clear if or when this will all be resolved. Meanwhile, the euro is being pummeled - now down to $1.37 - and everything that moves opposite the trade-weighted U.S. dollar is sinking fast.
Similarities can be seen in how the crises emerged -- but perhaps not in terms of how they are dealt with. EU governments still have the opportunity to respond, and they may come up with a better reaction than President George W. Bush and his aides, who thought they could isolate and punish Lehman, and by doing so set the financial system in flames. Attempting the same approach at the country level would be tantamount to Russian Roulette. If Greece falls (and it already has daily problems borrowing money in the financial markets), then Spain, Portugal, Ireland will probably fall too.
Therefore it must be helped with all the fiscal brutality within the realms of legal possibility. The European Commission has taken the first step to put the country under its control, and virtually deprive it of its sovereignty. This is the worst imaginable punishment for a nation, but it is also a consequence of being a member of the European community. It is only in times of crisis that you see what a system is capable of. And the euro system has many possibilities -- even if they hurt.
But, there is some good news here - the U.K. never adopted the common currency.
Had the British hopped on the euro bandwagon back in the 1990s, all hell would be breaking loose right about now as European Union officials would, presumably, be telling the Brits to get their financial house in order by slashing government payrolls and benefits much as they are now instructing the government of Greece.
From The Economist comes this data that makes the problems in Greece look rather tame in comparison to one much larger Anglo-Saxon country to the northwest.
Of course, Greece's trade deficit only compounds their troubles and lying to the EU about their finances probably didn't help the situation either, but, in many respects there are much bigger budget deficit problems around the world.
In absolute terms, there's no comparison. The Greek government is talking about making cuts of $10 billion or more - that's about two-days worth of borrowing to fund the U.S. budget deficit that was just announced earlier in the week.
Fortunately for the U.S. and the U.K., there's no one telling them what they can and can't do.