That’s a rather bigoted title for a post on the Greece crisis, I reckon, but worse has been said of the Greeks during this crisis, especially by the Germans, and the Greeks have raised some pretty ugly specters in return. A new dawn, possibly golden in color, is breaking over a country that looks once again to be on the verge of ruins, but at least we don’t have to worry about that old saw about Greeks bearing gifts. Hawhaw! What gifts? This is a nation of people who won’t pay their taxes and are now Welshing on their electric bills.

Maybe I used an inappropriate verb, not because I give a damn about anyone’s feelings on this platform, but because while the Welsh (and the Dutch) got that reputation by being frugal to the point of rudeness, the Greeks have gotten into their current bind by being lazy, spendthrift and feckless.

I think I’ll rework that old poem into something along the lines of “Timeo Danaos, et pro donam clamantes.” Feel free to correct my Latin; it’s been over a decade since I’ve declined my verbs, and I’m sure as hell not doing research to proofread it. I guess that laziness is a trait that would make me fit in in Athens. That, and the fact that I’m hanging out in a cafe writing this. Eh. Honey badger don’t care.

All this japery aside, the truth is that the Greek crisis really is scary. If I lived there right now, I’d probably find a way to get my ass out of Dodge in a hurry, say, before the Marathon Airport and the Port of Piraeus both close. If that sounds alarmist, consider that there are serious concerns that electricity and natural gas supplies may be disrupted due to widespread nonpayment of energy bills. John Mauldin recently reported that a Greek court heard and ruled on a suit against utility shutoffs in apparently record time, enjoining utilities from shutting off service to delinquent customers. The suit had been brought in response to a new law ordering utilities to shut off service to customers who were delinquent on their taxes, this constituency being a gigantic one in Greece; instead of gaining for itself a remedy against widespread, flagrant tax evasion, the government gained for its rapscallion constituents the right to bankrupt power companies in addition to bankrupting the national treasury.

I have long considered economics to be an Asperger’s spectrum discipline, but the Greek crisis as presented by John Mauldin is an example of economics that I can more or less understand. Reading about it is a bit like staying up late with Grandma to watch live helicopter footage of the Pacific Ocean washing over the Sendai Airport. It’s some gnarly disaster porn; all the viewer can do is hope that there will be survivors and stare at the screen, transfixed, waiting for the next round of gruesomeness.

Or, I guess, go back to suckering pinot vines in exchange for a camping site, which is about what the Greeks will be reduced to doing if present trends hold, but I’ve already done some of that today, and I’ll be doing more later. Yes, massa, I’s woykin’, but some a mah Hellenic buddies ain’t woykin’, massa. Shit, I should have used a Teutonic growl for that. Oh, well. There will be more acccusations of German malfeasance below.

I don’t usually know what the hell Paul Krugman is trying to say about monetary policy, and honey badger isn’t particularly interested in the details because it’s clear that the whole yarn could be told more coherently by someone else, but I can always follow Thomas Sowell’s histories of middleman minorities because even if they’re drily presented, they’re tales of raw human emotions, mainly envy and resentment, played out against a backdrop of some family running a shop in someone else’s country. This is the kind of story that Shakespeare might have written in a more poetic form. It isn’t about the Euro falling 5.2% against the US Dollar, which in turn rose 2.4% against the gold benchmark but fell against Brent crude spot prices and the Pound because of falling consumer confidence and some bollocks in Brussels that makes me want to have a glass of riesling and a nap. It’s more like a story of pissed off Malays driving the overseas Chinese out of Kuala Lampur by strutting through the ghetto brandishing tire irons, and ending up with an even shittier selection of grocery stores as a result.

Now, that’s a page turner. If I ever write a version of it, it’ll involve hot cops.

Most of the recent news about the Euro/PIIGS crisis has been along the lines of the former example. It’s far from gripping in the best of circumstances, and worse for those of us who have visited Brussels and gotten a glimpse of just how emotionally dead the locals are. Maybe they perk up come summer; I dunno. At heart, though, the European crisis is a story of wealthy, industrious Northerners extending credit to poor, feckless, corrupt Southerners so that the Southerners could buy rad-ass German industrial products, then wondering why the Southerners had trouble repaying their loans. Oops, that wasn’t supposed to happen. This arrangement was supposed to allow the dour, workaday German burghers to maintain their industrial skills and save up even more money by selling their products to insolvent peoples, more than a few of them a generation removed from medieval peasantry and living in places where the mob blows up magistrates, who would eventually repay them by, uhh, umm….Bueller?

It was nice while it lasted, but now the PIIGS are out of money and the Germans want their pound of flesh. The Germans’ demands have of course gone over swimmingly in Greece, a country where within living memory Nazi occupiers conducted reprisal hangings of randomly selected citizens on the main streets. As a sovereign nation, Greece has as much a right as any other nation to tell its creditors to go fuck themselves. In that event, the creditors would have to either take a haircut or extract their pound of flesh by force. A Bundeswehr invasion would be disastrous, but it’s not implausible. This ain’t Troy; the Greeks aren’t in a giving mood.

Hearing German banks, politicians and voters demand their fucking money back after they made imprudent loans to poor credit risks, I have to wonder whether they’re tone-deaf or too arrogant to care about local sensitivities in a country that their recent, and not entirely dead, ancestors brutalized. Does honey badger not care about the historical context? Feelings between Greece and Germany are hostile enough that things could get nastier than they’ve been since the war. This is not a time for these adversaries to be provocative. Athens has a reliable enough history of going up in flames without outside instigation.

Greece has clearly turned into a nation of entitled grifters. If the EU spigot really gets turned off, I expect Yugoslav-grade bloodletting. Racially motivated attacks on immigrants have already become a serious problem in Greece. That hatred could easily be turned against German tourists as well. The potential for Greece to descend into Third World violence and disorder is very real. There are a lot of dispossessed, angry, unemployed young people in Greece. Hot summer much?

The extension of credit by Northern European nations to this feckless lot (oddly including the Irish) seems to be a European equivalent of the American subprime mortgage bubble, although Europe stupidly inflated its own real estate bubbles as well in the same time frame. Creditors always claim that they didn’t see it coming. These crises are like loaning $300 to a gutter drunk in a gentlemen’s agreement, then going to the police when he absconds and bellyaching about how he swore he wasn’t gonna spend it on liquor and would be able to start repaying it once the moving company paid him for his unloading gig, the gig that he skipped in order to spend the afternoon drinking tall boys in the woods by the railroad tracks. Then you tell the cops that it made sense at the time because the drunk had agreed to a higher interest rate than you would have gotten from a CD.

What are the cops supposed to do: trudge through the woods looking for the rapscallion and beat him until the money falls out, or advise you to have a bit more sense next time?

It strikes me that the Germans are acting like an embittered stepmother who married the father of an unemployable alcoholic in the hope of milking the social services agencies for support payments, then got buyer’s remorse when the math didn’t pencil out the way she had hoped. Oops. Another way of phrasing that is that Germany was motivated by its own avarice to extend credit to Greece, then worked itself into a lather when it discovered that Greece was an even more avaricous place.

As they say in jolly old England, balls. But as they also said in jolly old England, keep calm and carry on. It’s something that the Germans are fairly good at when they aren’t fairly good at bombing other countries.

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