May 08, 2010

It's all Greek to me

I think I've mentioned in the past that I'm the grandson of a Greek immigrant. (And proud of it - you see, I have nothing against immigration into the United States per se; it adds to the vitality and cultural richness of the country, something that acts as a counterbalance against American corporate homogenization and our educational deficiencies. It's just that the situation with our southern border has become a sick joke that has nothing to do with legal immigration or controlled introduction of new people into American society.) Anyway, this particular ancestor, Milteadis of Ayassos, was born in a Northeast Aegean island of the Greek archipelago in 1892, at a time when his birthplace was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, as it had been for the previous 400 years. It wasn't until after World War I that these islands were rejoined with the rest of Greece. I imagine, therefore, that if I were to run for President that Rush Limbaugh would use these facts to prove I was a Muslim, or at least a Muslim sympathizer, and I would spend all my time defending my grandfather's Greek ethnicity, his baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church, arguing that it was not his fault that when the Greek War of Independence ended prematurely in the 1830's because of the meddling of the English and French that these islands were ceded to the Ottomans just to make them happy (another typical English sell-out of the vulnerable, I would insist).

Oh well. The other three lines I can trace through my parents are quintessentially American, people who have been here forever, for centuries, Scots-Irish, Welsh, even a tiny dollop of French. This is, after all, the Melting Pot. But it's the Greek line that has always seemed the most exotic and interesting to me, because it was my grandfather who made the most of the American Dream.

So it's sad to see "Greece" reduced these days to a catchword for "sovereign debt default." I really hate all this "globalization" nonsense, the "integration" of everything into one correlated, highly unstable (yet mind-numbingly boring) system that relegates all of these once-colorful, distinctive, historically-rich actual places into concepts, intellectual constructs related to financial "problems" that must be worked out through the European Central Bank, or through currency swaps with the Federal Reserve, or a bailout initiated through the International Monetary Fund, with "austerity measures" imposed on Greek citizens by the European Union as a condition of rescue, and blah blah blah.

What a mess. What utter stupidity. Greece has always been kinda poor. It's why my grandfather left that little rocky island not too far from the historical location of Troy, where the wily Greeks once bore their equine gift. (Now the joke is, "beware of Greeks bearing debts." Ha ha. Even the jokes of globalization suck.) What happened to the drachma? It's the euro now, and Greece does not control its own fate. Cannot print its own currency, so it relies on the tender mercies of the Germans and French either to bail them out or let them go to hell. I see Greece compared to Lehman Brothers. That's how ridiculous this "standardization of concepts" in the interlocking economies of globalization has become. Countries ("sovereigns," in globo-speak) are like big corporations in terms of their risk of "contagion" and "systemic risk." Lehman went bankrupt, as did Iceland, so now Greece (the "G" in PIIGS, its porcine brethren being Ireland, Italy, Portugal & Spain) must stand as the first test case of ECB intervention that will set the model for the rest of the little piggies. I think, on balance, none of them will eat roast beef and several will go wee-wee-wee all the way home.

At the top of the fiat currency food chain stands the once-mighty United States, with its sacred dollar. Everyone takes us seriously when we run our printing press. Don't ask whether that makes any sense, because that's a dangerous question. Why the hell do you think a group of Senators (from "senatus," Latin for elderly, etymologically related to "senile") are doing everything they can to prevent an audit of the Federal Reserve? It's because it's dangerous to know just how absurd a system is which allows the United States to declare, by fiat, how much money it has. Some really intelligent person (just give him 20-30 IQ points over yours truly, that might do it) will soon write a book about why an interrelated international system of finance based upon fiat currencies must, in all cases, without exception, lead to excess debt, inflation, imbalance and collapse, and that this evolution is tied inextricably into human psychology at the neuroscientific level. I know the proof is out there. With my limited brain, through a glass darkly, here's my intuition about how it happens: it is very much the same mechanism that explains why the volume in a room full of people, say at a cocktail party, inevitably rises to a level where it is difficult for any one person to hear another as the feedback loops drive the shouting louder and louder. It's something along those lines.

So now we've arrived at the point where the entire world is broke, submerged under oceans of debt, and Greece is not Greece - it's now "Greece," the first of many insolvent sovereigns, the Lehman of countries, and not the home of Plato, Aristophanes and Euclid. It's made the full journey from the Cradle of Western Civilization to the Cradle of Modern Idiocy, a sad transit that would have made Archimedes shake his head in wonder and mutter, in classical Greek, we're screwed.

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