Maybe the Norwegian Nobel Committee ran out of candidates for this year’s Peace Prize and didn’t want to transfer the money to the Main Fund, as they’d done in the past. So they handed it to the European Union, which triggered an avalanche of snickering and mocking. Its government is engaged in a phenomenal power grab, and its Eurozone is mired in an extraordinarily screwed-up debt crisis with bloody protests in the streets. But peace is a new phenomenon in Europe.
It’s been a phenomenal circus, the screaming and hollering on all sides about the “fiscal cliff,” in the media, from lawmakers, from chieftains of our industries, particularly those that feed at the government’s big trough, such as defense contractors, which include some of the largest global corporations. Even NPR this morning postulated that it would cause a million job losses. Hysteria comes to mind.
A Greek economist’s terse sarcasm: “GDP has decreased by €47 billion in the last five years. Economy is expected to contract by 3.8% in 2013, the 6th straight year of recession! Unemployment has reached 24.7%. Youth unemployment… 55.4%! No worries though—we have the sun, the sea, our cultural background.” And GOLD.
When an acquaintance of mine in Greece had dinner with one of his relatives, a ranking official at the Bank of Greece, the discussion inevitably came around to the Troika—the bailout and austerity gang from the EU, the ECB, and the IMF—and how Greece should send them packing. “Of course,” the central banker said, “it would help considerably if we actually had a functioning government these past 182 years.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has a singular problem: 84% of all voters have “little” or “no” confidence in him. The fate of Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, leader of the opposition Socialist party, is even worse: 90% of all voters distrust him! Those are the two top political figures of the two major political parties, and the utterly frustrated and disillusioned Spaniards are defenestrating them both.
Deceptive calm and optimism have settled on the German financial markets. But Germany, after hyperventilating for two years about its superior economic model, is worried about exports. And Chancellor Merkel about the elections next year. It would be a heck of a lot easier to hang on to power if Germany isn’t in a deep recession because exports dried up. And they are drying up. But suddenly, domestic demand is getting hit.
It started on September 19. In several East German states, a lot of children and adolescents fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea. A week later, it was officially acknowledged as a foodborne illness. And now is has become the largest wave of food poisoning ever recorded in Germany.
Cypriot President Christofias dug in his heels. On Greek TV. Not behind closed doors with the Troika, the austerity gang from the European Commission, the IMF, and the ECB that have performed such miracles in Greece. But as Cyprus veers toward bankruptcy, his game of playing the Russians against the Troika has fallen apart, banks are in worse condition than imagined, and the bailout amounts jumped again.
The French government is trying to reign in its deficit by jacking up taxes, including the capital gains tax—an old philosophical pillar of the French left. But an explosive essay published last Friday hit a nerve with entrepreneurs, venture capital investors, artisans, and mom-and-pop business owners. And their anger, which spread across the social media, the papers, and finally TV news, turned into an open revolt.
The final amount that the US government owes at the end of fiscal 2012 (September 30) is, drumroll, $16,159,487,013,300. It owes it, in no particular order, to the Saudis, US citizens, the Social Security Trust Fund, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians…. It amounts to about 103% of GDP. An earsplitting hangover from a debt binge that robbed the future. But there are winners.