The degeneration of Greece into fiscal ruin and political anarchy is heartbreaking, but Spain is the real nightmare country for European investors and ministers. Spain is far larger than Greece – in fact, it’s the fourth-largest economy in the Eurozone – and its impending collapse is literally unbearable for the European Union.
Oh, and the third largest economy in the Euro? That would be Italy, which is almost as shaky as Spain. The second largest economy, France, has launched a crusade against “austerity??? under its new socialist president. The Number One economy, Germany, is getting mighty sick and tired of financing the welfare states of Europe. Gulp.
Lifeboats are already hitting the water. A good $80 billion (in U.S. dollars) worth of investment fled Spain over the past month, pulling $40 billion out of local banks on their way across the border. The New York Times reports that Spain will try selling 2 billion euros (about $2.5 billion U.S.) worth of bonds this coming Thursday. “The sale is expected to include 10-year bonds,??? notes the Times. “There are doubts that banks, in the current environment, will jump to buy such long-term paper, given the increased risks in holding Spanish debt. Even yields nearing 7 percent may not lure them.??? 7 percent is the meltdown point for bond sales. Beyond that point, the nuclear financial reactors powering big governments go super-critical.
The meltdown may already be in progress, as it appears government officials and investment analysts across Europe are quietly preparing for not just the expected Greek exit in two weeks, but the end of the Euro. There’s no way to bail out Spain without also bailing out Italy, even if Greece floats out to sea without consuming another euro, and the European Union simply cannot afford to bail out both Spain and Italy. The weak American economy totters on the verge of recession, and will pull Europe down with it??? unless Europe tumbles first, and tugs America over the brink.
The flashpoint for Euro disintegration is the demand by dependent nations for bailouts without controls. Everybody wants Germany’s money, but nobody wants to listen to German theories of spending restraint.
A few Eurozone ministers have spoken of centralizing more power in Brussels, to remove control from the hands of grumpy electorates prone to voting for whoever promises to abrogate austerity agreements most quickly. That seems like a pipe dream when even local governments can’t maintain fiscal discipline, in the face of angry crowds packing rocks and firebombs, but it does seem as if the Eurozone is no longer willing to hand over bailout cash without stripping some degree of sovereign control from its welfare clients.
Spain wants the EU to pump money directly into its banks, without preconditions. Germany says no dice – the money has to go to the Spanish government, in exchange for a surrender of national authority to the European Union.
Meanwhile, the CEO of American International Group, Robert Benmosche, suggested from the comfort of his seaside villa in Croatia that the solution to worldwide government insolvency was simple: “Retirement ages will have to move to 70, 80 years old. That would make pensions and medical services more affordable. They will keep people working longer and will take that burden off the youth.???
Oh, is that all we have to do? Well, the problem is that every Western electorate has been taxed up, down, and sideways to support the promise of retirement at far younger ages??? and they’re not going to give up those promised benefits easily.
Benmosche is saying that the entire premise of the Western intergenerational entitlement state, from Greece to the United States, was a lie. There is no way for a vast, industrialized population with growing life expectancies to subsidize a tiny 30-year working life, nestled comfortably between extended adolescence and decades of retirement. No electorate is prepared to wake up from that dream. All will be eager to reward politicians who offer one more slap of the fiscal snooze bar.
The essential conflict between dependency and independence is playing out in every electorate across the Western world, from the Eurozone to ever level of American government. Politics can only blind people to economic reality for a limited time. Smart, well-connected investors are bailing out of Spain, and the European Union, while the public is still told to view their entitlements as sacred, and promised that government has not quite run out of private-sector pockets to pick. The same thing will happen in the United States, when our system collapses. We’ll wake up one morning to discover the smart guys already took all the lifeboats, right before the full size of the approaching insolvency iceberg became fully apparent.