Greece Is The Word

If you’re somebody who has been saving for retirement and investing your savings in the financial markets, here’s a bit of friendly advice:  don’t check the markets today, or for that matter all of this week.  You’ll just be depressed.

The problem is Greece.  It defaulted on its repayment of loans from the International Monetary Fund last week, and yesterday its voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum that would have imposed strict austerity measures.  Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who had opposed the austerity measures — he once said that “austerity is like trying to extract milk from a sick cow by whipping it” — then resigned with a flourish, saying that the referendum result would “stay in history as a unique moment when a small European nation rose up against debt-bondage.”

“Debt bondage”?  That’s a good one!  Try it on your bank the next time your mortgage or car payment comes due.

The problem for Greece is that there is no alternative to repaying its debts.  Greece is paying the piper for electing bad leaders who didn’t recognize the inevitable crash that was coming from constant borrowing to pay for a broken economic and pension system.  After defaulting on its IMF loan, Greece really has nowhere to turn for cash.  Who is going to loan money to an impoverished country where the citizens apparently don’t recognize their obligation to repay their debts?

All of this would be a valuable economic lesson in unsustainable borrowing if Greece were just going down the tubes by itself.  The problem is that Greece is part of the European Union, and its problems therefore are Eurozone problems.  Now European leaders need to figure out whether they have Greece exit the EU — not exactly a ringing endorsement of EU political and financial stability — or extend still more credit to the Greeks, which probably isn’t going to sit well with voters in Germany and other prudently managed EU countries who wonder why they are picking up the tab for Greece’s problems.

All of which loops back to affect those of us who have saved and invested.  Financial markets hate uncertainty, and the Greek crisis has now become uncertain to the nth degree.  Today we’ll be seeing news coverage of closed Greek banks, crowds in the streets trying to find cash, and frowning finance ministers going to meetings in ornate European buildings — not exactly scenes that speak of financial stability.  So even though the Greek problem has nothing to do with the U.S., in our global economic system our financial markets will be affected just the same.

It will be a wild ride until the Greek problem is finally resolved, and there really is only one solution:  Greece will need to leave the EU, issue its own currency, and witness the worst hyperinflation seen in Europe in decades.  After its economic system crashes and its elderly citizens see their savings eaten up by inflation, maybe the Greeks will recognize that some austerity and continuing “debt bondage” really wasn’t so bad.

Horrors! Horsemeat!

There’s an interesting scandal playing out in Europe.  Products marketed as beef in fact contain horsemeat, and consumers and governments are outraged.

IMG_0445In all, “beef” products sold in 16 different countries have been found to contain horsemeat.  Efforts to trace the source of the horsemeat follow a tortured path from British stores to France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, and the Netherlands.  Ultimately, the trail leads to Romania, where officials disclaim any role in a fraud:  if Romanian slaughterhouses are producing horsemeat, they say, it is forthrightly labeled as horsemeat.  No one, therefore, quite seems to know how horsemeat got into the  “beef” product chain.  That’s why the British Environment Secretary says the scandal involves some kind of international criminal conspiracy.  No one has gotten sick — although health ministers want to test products to make sure they don’t include an animal painkiller that could pose risks for humans — and the fraud claims all relate to simply mislabeling horsemeat as beef.

At bottom, the issue seems to boil down to squeamishness about eating horsemeat.  No one wants to eat My Friend Flicka.  Why is there a cultural taboo in some countries about eating a horse?  We eat cows, chickens, buffalo, pigs, goats, sheep, lambs, ducks, geese, and other birds.  Why should those animals be knocked off to enhance the food supply, but not horses?

I’ve never eaten horsemeat — at least, I don’t think I have, although as this EU scandal indicates, you never really know — but I wouldn’t hesitate to give it a try.  Meat is meat, and meat is protein.  In my view, the fact that it once wore a saddle doesn’t change the analysis.