The Take-away on Greece

Regardless of what happens with Greece, whether they come to an agreement with the Troika or not, here are some things that I’ve taken away from watching it.

This is what society will look like when the bills finally come due and money that’s needed goes instead to the lender. 

There’s only so much wealth circulating in a society and when critical mass is reached, that wealth will have to go to pay off the lender.  Crucial services will be unmet and the social net will suffer as that wealth is diverted to repayment.  As it stands in Greece, pharmacists are having difficulty getting medications filled for people since the government ministry doesn’t have the money to pay suppliers.  People on pensions are looking at cutbacks of more than a third.  Families with no income are beginning to consider giving children up for adoption or simply leaving them with the village churches. With almost one half of all Americans living in a household receiving some form of government aid, any cutbacks in domestic assistance are going to have outsize effects upon our families. 

Family will matter greatly, moreso than is the American case now.

One of the conversations that we had was with a driver who was taking us from Athens International to our hotel.  About half of the Greek population lives in the vicinity of Athens, which grew tremendously in the past three decades.  What he’s witnessing however, is that more and more are leaving Athens and returning to the villages in which their families reside.  There, they’ll find support from their families and weather what’s about to come with the hope that eventually, they’ll be able to return to a semblance of prosperity afterwards.  The point is, they have family with which they can shelter the hardship; the geographically extended and transient nature of the American family today makes that possibility dicier than would occur in a stationary, family-centric society like Greece.  If things really go to hell, do you have family upon whom you can fall back?  Likewise, how far does your own net extend?

He who pays the piper, calls the tune.

Some members of the German government are openly stating that Greece’s intransigence/incompetence/stalling requires that the European government take over the Greek government’s budgeting and spending authority.  This is frankly a financial coup d’etat and brings home the point that whoever controls the finances ultimately drives the process.  In a recent post on Greece, I equated this threat to a situation in which we’d see the Chinese, who hold large amounts of our bonds, come in and demand control of our spending process in return for their capital.  However, this wouldn’t be a realistic alternative since the Chinese are neither the principal buyers nor holders of our bonds anymore; last year, the Federal Reserve System of the United States became the top non-governmental holder of the federal public debt in the world, at $1.65 Trillion.  So a private banking entity – which is what the Federal Reserve actually is – is now the top holder of US debt with 46% more holdings than the second place Chinese and with the Chinese cutting back, it will only grow further.

Understand first that the Federal Reserve System in not part of the Federal government, but instead is a private entity owned by the various member banks; as part of the charter granted by the federal government in 1913, it is owned by the member banks but the leadership is confirmed by government, hence the periodic news that one person or another has been confirmed as Fed chairman by Congress after nomination by the President.  Otherwise, it is a private entity.  That scenario worked for decades, but with the repeal of Glass-Steagal and the unregulated growth of derivatives, it’s become apparent that the Federal Reserve now serves the interests of the banking system first and foremost.  Now that you understand this, consider the banker/financier excesses of the past years and ask yourself if the holders of the debt are going to be willing to sacrifice for the common good or if they’ll look to their own interests first.

He who pays the piper, calls the tune.   

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