Never mind the worldwide ecological disaster unleashed by economic exploitation. The human condition itself is unsustainable. Unrealistic optimism invariably gives way to paying the piper who holds the purse strings. The world is about to get a disgusting good look at the genitals of a bloated European emperor who wears no clothes, and has no purse from which to pay.
Imagine a world where governments had to live like its citizens: accountable to pay for what it owed, instead of kicking the fiscal can down the road to the next generation of politicians and citizens. It is impossible to imagine because it is a world that has never existed.
In the U.S., only Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s was able to claw back a bit of that country’s government debt, and was able to do so for only a very few years, during a frenzied sprint of unsustainable optimism when tax revenues zoomed, before the bubble burst.
The European Union started in 1967 as a customs union: a way to encourage trade. The appeal of that enlarged a flimsy federation.
Then, in a spurt of utopian financial fantasy, a common currency was born in 2002. Within a decade it started to unravel.
Debt is the source of society’s demise. Bankers have long been leering with the temptations of financial engineering. The mantra of “take it away today and don’t worry how to pay” is coming home to roost.
In a gyre of self-serving back-scratching, governments in hock depend upon the moneyed. President Bill Clinton once famously remarked that the only thing he feared was the bond market. With good reason.
Once the latest bubble of optimism burst in 2008, government debt accelerated in the U.S. and Europe. Governments essentially printed money to bail out the banks who had over-indulged their greed; the same banks that governments need to buy freshly-minted debt. That gyre is fiscal codependency. Alcoholics know it as “hair of the dog that bit you.”
Being the 800-pound gorilla of government largess, the U.S has gotten away with it so far. Europe has not been so lucky.
As the Great Recession wore on, the banks having been propped up once more, lenders started to notice that the euro was not a unified monolith. It was instead propped up by individual governments that had been spending for decades like drunken sailors on shore leave.
Bond yields shot up to rates that countries could never hope to pay back. With no choice but to float bonds that are bound to eventually sink, the can got kicked further down the road. Even that is now being given a sidelong look by otherwise investors.
Only the sensible sourpuss of Teutonic rectitude was left relatively unscathed. In the finale, a solicitous chorus by continental miscreants for a payout as part of grand euro codependency should go unheeded by Germany, for its own good.
Germany cannot save the continent, and it has come to that. Even France overindulged in repeated vintages of fiscal wine. The euro was, after all, only backed by the illusion that its individual governments behave responsibly.
The euro represented a monetary convergence that belied an ongoing of divergence in governmental prudence. As push comes to knock-down brawl, the uncertainty is over whether the EU countries are really in the same boat.
At the heart of these fiscal fantasies is a convergence about the divergence of interdependence. A rising tide lifts all boats, in what appears a happy coincidence of independence.
As the tide recedes, interdependence becomes increasingly apparent. The boats are all tied together, by trade ties, including (especially) financial links. As the boats hit the rocks, the swell tide of happy sailing becomes a calamity of contagion.
The euro can approaches the end of the road. Greece will soon exit, as a prelude to the euro’s breakup. All hell will break loose, from nothing more than hesitation – as the moneyed sit on the sidelines, with the stark realization that the Euro humpty dumpty cannot be repaired once cracked, especially considering the rot of government debt on which it sits.
Uncertainty is sure poison to capitalism. “Animal spirits” optimism is the fuel that fills the tank of the engine of eternal growth. The bigger bits of Western civilization increasing look to be running on fumes.
Uncertainty, like optimism, is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The uncertainty of resolution to the euro debt quandary is freezing business investment. “Wait and see” is the kiss of death for consumption. In the Europe and the U.S., business-to-business consumption, disingenuously termed investment, is crawling to a standstill.
In the trickle-down capitalist system, less investment means fewer jobs. Fewer jobs means increasing poverty, and, more important to the system, less consumption.
As optimism is the opium of capitalism, consumption is its sustenance. The bottom line is that the will to spend drives prosperity.
Above all else, the capitalist treadmill requires consumption. To its chagrin, Japan has learned that lesson well in over a quarter century of its demise. Europe is facing the same dilemma in crisis mode.
The ironic not-so-secret sauce of consumption is debt. It feels good to drive it away today with no money down. The animal spirits rise.
Scale matters. Massive government debt long financed the illusion of prosperity for Western civilization, for far longer than anyone alive now.
The folly of finance has always been that debt can only be grown and rolled over so many times before it tires. That time has come.