Greece Decides

A sigh, but not one entirely of relief.

The much-anticipated return to the polls happened in Greece this past weekend, and the global game of economic chicken is over for the moment.

The result of the nation’s second election in a little over a month was a very narrow victory for one of Greece’s traditional political parties, the conservative and pro-bailout/EURO/austerity New Democracy (ND) party. Assuming ND can successfully form a government, this would seem to indicate that Greece will, for now, stay within the boundaries of a heavy-handed, German-dictated austerity agreement and stay within the Eurozone.

Yesterday’s election gives hope to many, including those working in the world’s financial markets, and rips it cleanly and painfully away from others, like ordinary working Greeks, who can now fully expect to pay for their misplaced faith in international establishments, corporate elites and even their own elected leaders.

One important lesson I hope my beloved Greek brothers and sisters have learned through this recent experience: political leaders, whether democratically elected or not, cannot be trusted to fulfill their campaign promises.  I recognize that I am a virtually complete cynic when it comes to this, but my own considerable experience amply supports this conclusion.

The Greek people, that is to say, the real, hard-working, family-oriented, open-hearted Greek people, who were sold blue-sky and puffy-cloud, joy-everlasting, land-of-milk-and-honey fictions about their participation in the Eurozone have been handed the bill for a banquet they were never invited to attend and, for which, their succeeding generations will be left to slave.

So, for now, the world has escaped the feared tipping over of the first Eurozone domino. I’d say it’s scant cause for celebration.

For All the Greek Marbles

On Sunday, June 17, Greeks will vote for the second time in about a month.

The last national election results seemed almost humorously irrational to the outside world; for example, putting both socialists and neo-Nazis into parliamentary seats. It wasn’t, of course, either funny or irrational from the perspective of the Greek people, who felt themselves lied to by their own political and business leaders and by global financial interests, leaving them with a burning anger and the unpaid bill for quite a spending party.

After the May elections, no party could form a government, so the nation will go to the polls again.

But there’s no laughing this time around. Not anywhere.

The stakes are quite serious, indeed. Greeks must decide whether they’ll stay in the Eurozone and, if so, who will bear the burden. Markets are trembling and tough talk from some quarters, especially among Europe’s so-called leaders, has done nothing of benefit to anyone. Financial analysts, governments and politicians everywhere are watching closely what the Greek people will decide about their future – stay or go, accept Eurozone-mandated austerity measures, radically change the nature of Greek social programs. In any case, there will be worldwide ripple effects, in addition to perhaps seismic changes within Greece itself.

Austria’s foreign minister, Maria Fekter, put the question with characteristic starkness and gratuitous paternalism, what some see as a direct threat: “Greece will not receive any more economic aid if the election on 17 June results in a government that refuses to keep to the terms of the memorandum [prior agreement about bailout conditions].”

Will Greeks express a clear direction? Will they start the domino-like disintegration of the Euro? Will they provide an example other European countries will follow?

Sunday’s election in the birthplace of democracy will tell.

‘Tooth Fairy’ Economics

Of the fictions that exist in our daily lives, there are several categories: childhood (e.g., Santa Claus), harmlessly supportive (e.g., you don’t look fat in that jacket), ignorant (e.g., natural selection and evolution are theories), and downright dangerous (e.g., Europe can hold together a single, viable financial system).

Threats and ultimatums aside, the Eurozone cannot be saved as it currently exists. All honest and clear-eyed observers agree. People in the continent’s most troubled economies no longer support it; that much is clearly evident. The real street-level individual human sacrifices necessary to right the currency are politically unthinkable in those countries. That is the message of recent elections in Greece and France.

Looking back, it was pure fantasy to begin with, sold to people by leaders who were either corrupt and self-motivated, ignorant, or selectively attentive. The Eurozone economies were fundamentally very different animals, not merely in terms of composition, but also of basic approach, social infrastructure, aims and purposes. In flush times, these differences were minimized by robust growth and super-normal returns to capital. Now? Not so much.

Turns out that when push comes to shove, Greeks don’t particularly want to change who they are, how their economy and society behave, or how their jobs, pensions and social security schemes operate. The French either, it now seems. Other members are teetering close to the same place.

So, let’s not pretend about this anymore, alright?

The Eurozone will either change radically (i.e., lose members) or die outright. Forcing the execution of existing agreements will cause real pain to real people, for little good in return. Let’s stick to harmless fictions.

That jacket doesn’t make you look fat.

Why You Should Care About May 6th

Lucas Papademos is not a disgraced football coach. He isn’t dating a Kardashian. Nor is he starring in the latest Bond movie. Not even a last-minute entry into the race for the GOP’s presidential nomination.

If he were any of those things, of course, you’d be much more likely to recognize the name and face. Lucas Papademos is, in fact, the interim prime minister of Greece. He has been desperately trying to construct an economic recovery out of his nation’s financial collapse.

I care deeply what happens to Greece because, for one thing, I happen to be Greek. I have relatives and friends who are struggling and face the prospect of struggling much more. But I also see no small measure of risk to the world economy if Greece’s economic restructuring, which Papademos has so far led, is allowed to slow, reverse or, God forbid, completely collapse.

Papademos has received the president’s permission to dissolve parliament and hold elections on May 6th. Much – close to everything, perhaps – hangs in the balance for Greece, for Europe, for the world’s economy.

We should all offer Papademos, and Greece itself, our heartfelt blessings.

Reality Check

Athens is ablaze.

Many Greeks are consumed with anger over the terms necessary to avail themselves of the financial bailout offered by the deities of the European community and have taken to the streets in protest. The changes, protesters claim,  amount to a significant and unacceptable change in Greek life, in Greek society, in what it means at its core to be Greek.

This is a precarious moment. Failure of the Greek government to deliver on these terms (and get the bailout funds) would result in serious consequences for Greece, and for the rest of Europe. Together with other developments, it may signal the end of European financial union – no more single currency, open trading relationships, free flow of people across historic national boundaries.

Care to watch a complete meltdown of the European community economy? Care to consider for just a moment what that might mean to the rest of the world? War? Complete world economic collapse?

The scale of this issue is, I realize, hard to fathom, even, perhaps, harder to take. So, I understand my fellow Americans wanting ready distraction – professional golf, the “tragic” death of a pop music princess, Oscars, baseball’s spring training, March Madness, etc.

All well and good; I enjoy diversions too. But our media is splashed with every angle possible on Whitney Houston, God rest her soul, and not a sentence for events that could shape our world for the rest of our lifetimes.

Time for a good strong dose of reality.