Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Greek lesson and impact from the eZone to the US

Riots in Greece. Citizens in a country strapped for funds wrecking the public infrastructure that it will not really be able to afford to repair. Priceless. MasterCard.

Whole industries on strike. Critical businesses like banks operating on skeleton crews.

Protesters are saying that the average man can't pay anything more, get it from the rich.

Ah, yes it should be a familiar theme to Americans where the solution to everything is to tax the rich theses days. But the rich are rich. The rich are mobile. The rich own the businesses that create the wealth and provide employment. Scare them off and you are left with the poor. Try taxing them - alone.

In the late 1960s riots in America decimated Watts in California, Newark, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan. The reaction was by not just the rich but any middle class person who could afford it; that reaction was to leave. The riots were race-based. But the flight of the 'wealthy' was not. By the way the definition of 'wealthy' is anyone who has more money than you. These three cites were forever marked by these riots and the flight of their tax base. Newark is only just getting itself rebuilt. Detroit is a shadow of its former self and is now being decimated by a new challenge to its key industry, autos.

Rest assured that taxing The Rich is a slogan that like any other seemingly good intention is destined to help pave the road to hell. It may be a great slogan but as a policy it just won't fly.

Greece has overspent in a way that probably benefited public servants the most! But this is the hardest cost to trim from a budget especially in a social welfare state. In New York City as Mayor Bloomberg ran for another term he 'gifted' the MTA with a huge contract. After a transit strike in the late 1970s, the NY unions still got rich contracts. They own the city, almost literally the same way investment bankers 'own,' control or hold hostage their firms and their compensation polices. The municipal unions have power and tend to vote in a block- for you or against you. So politicians cave in to their demands. Municipal unions are powerful forces and all states will have a hard time reining in what has been expanded. Greece - socialist leanings or not - is no different.

Greece's people are rejecting the idea that they have done anything wrong. In their eye, someone else is at fault, call them 'the rich' although everybody who can in Greece hides income and avoids taxes. It's still someone else's fault.

What about the government that hid the country's excesses and did not face the music sooner? Are they at fault? What about hiding the excesses and at the same time not trying hard to compress expenditures so someday Greece could comply with The Rules? What were Greek leaders thinking? Did they think they could roll their ever-growing derivatives contracts forever? Are the people angry? yes! But these were their elected leaders and the people are responsible for their leader's actions.

Beware of Greeks bearing debt and/or protest placards. We already have seen what Icelanders have done when it comes time to pay the piper. What is the new modern legacy Greece will make for itself? Austerity, it's not my job? And if Greece can't get rich Greeks to pay what about the Rich countries of the e-Zone? Isn't that the next most logical step? If there is no need for austerity then everything in Greece must be fine except for the tax revenues to pay for it all. If you can't tax the rich or the poor or the middle class then you need an inflow from outside the country. QED.

Where Greece is heading with this logic is a very bad place. The unwillingness by Greeks to take their medicine is bad sign for all of Europe not just Greece. At some point soon Greek bond debt will be due and given this tilt on the part of Greeks no one will roll that debt over let alone contract for new debt. A country that wont' knuckle down to pay its debts puts itself in a real jam.

Pay what you owe? It's Greek to me. Maybe the Greeks can restore the good name of the Welsh or give Icelanders a run for their money as nonpayers. The trend is unsettling.

Meanwhile the US budget deficit gets bigger and the Administration wants to add another trillion to that load for healthcare coverage (not reform). And big challenges for medical costs and social security costs still lie ahead. Maybe Greece's troubles came just in time to give the US a wake up call. Even the RICH United Sates cannot afford to go off on trillion dollar spending programs- again (Iraq war) and again (Economic stimulus) and again (health care) . A penny spent must be a penny earned. The era of deficit financing in the US must be brought to a close and yes we ALL WE ALL WILL PAY MORE TAXES TO DO THIS. It's not just a vague prescription for Greece.

US debt levels? They are not Greek to me.

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