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  1. Wealth
February 13, 2012

Funday Times

By Spear's

Anyone lending money to Greece must know by now that they might as well set a match to the cheque, as they are never going to get it back.

How was your News Sunday? The front page of the Sunday Times told me that a pop singer had OD’d à la Michael Jackson; I nearly choked on my cornflakes, as I mistakenly thought in the early morning murk that the goalkeeper for the Arsenal had just croaked; and then stories that a man had just had a baby and that a bunch of grown-ups, who have just written off the best part of a €110 billion loan made as recently as 2010, were planning to lend the same debtor €130 billion, knowing that it should really be €145 billion. And that was just the front page!

It was this last story that for me took the dry biscuit of so-called austerity. Anyone lending money to Greece must know by now that they might as well set a match to the cheque as they hand it over, as they are never going to get it back. That, anyone half-sensible would have assumed, was self-evident given the outcome on the first €110 billion busted loan.

Anyone half-sensible would only have to ponder for a moment why the Greeks are prepared to sign up for more apparent economic hell, amid the firebombs and CS gas, in order to get the wretched loan. Why? Because they know it will never be repaid! So the Greeks roll the loaded debt dice once again, on that basic rule of ‘Never give a sucker an even break’. How many times can the Greeks pull this improbable trick out of the hat?

And this brings us to the next rule of the half-sensible: ‘If you owe the bank a hundred grand, you have a problem; but if you owe the bank a hundred million, the bank has a problem.’ Guess which camp Greece falls into?

The third rule of the half-sensible is this: ‘Don’t dig a hole, unless you want to fall into it.’ Perhaps the Troika laying on this new loan – that’s the EU, the ECB and the IMF – have a mutual debt death-wish and want to fall into the stinking and corrupt black hole which passes for Greece’s public finances, breaking the wholly-sensible rule of a certain Mr Gresham, namely, ‘Don’t throw good money after bad’.

All this may come to pass quicker than most of the parties realise, especially the Greek government. Smart suits signing up for austerity in smart suites of offices in downtown Athens doesn’t mean it’s going to happen on the street outside, which is where it counts. Try reducing the pay and pensions of train-drivers on €80,000 a year for a five-hour day, and, hey presto!, there are no trains at all. Ditto the power-workers, and the lights go out. Communication workers, and the phones go dead.

Then again, try privatising these hot sectors and you’ll get your fingers burnt, as you realise you have just agreed to pay these industrial hold-up men pensions for life. And so on and on. In a word, the Greek Bail-out Plan is all half-baked and bound to start unravelling the day after it’s all signed up.

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And the lesson that will be writ large for all to see is that you cannot lend money and impose austerity within a monetary union that forbids devaluation, and expect to get your money back. Greece reminds me of a story of the Incomparable Mullah Nasruddin. His donkey was costing too much to keep, so the Mullah fed it less every day. Then the donkey dropped dead. ‘Pity!’ thought the Mullah. ‘Just one more day, and it would have been living on no food at all!’

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