It's not exactly Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving, but you might like to know that Greece is having a Going-Out-of-Viability Sale. The whole place isn't for sale, just the valuable bits. Well, it's not really "Greece" that's for sale at all, not per se, it's more like Greece's principal assets and industries are for sale, most of them, and actually they're just... I'll start again.
See, what happened is this: last year Greece got bailed out of impending economic collapse by a combination of lenders, primarily Germany, through a €110 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. At the time, Greek President Giorgos Papandreou must have thought his countrymen would be awash in cash by now with the success of his tourism campaign, "Greece: It's Still a Country." But that didn't pan out and so whereas last year Greece was just on the brink of financial ruin, this year it's on the brink of financial ruin and about to be taken over by Germans, which has happened before but not with so many accountants involved. And evidently German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama's Freund und Kollege, reckons three Reichs don't make her wrong because she's bound and determined that this time, by Zeus, the Greeks are going to pay and pay up.
Greece is not the United States and that's too bad because whereas the latter is nigh its self-imposed debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion and clearly intends to borrow on through it like Grant took Richmond, the former can't borrow any more from Petros to pay Paul and it can't even do the logical thing to pay back a comparatively paltry $158 billion, which is to print more money. It can't print money because as of 2002, Greece doesn't have money, except the Euro, which is managed and administered in Germany by the European Central Bank. Entry into the E.U. and acceptance of the Euro as the coin of the realm in place of a beleaguered drachma that declined in value, no fooling, trillions of times in 50 years was supposed to pull Greece out of a pattern of accelerating decline. It seems instead that Greeks are set to take some more declining from the E.U. in a manner not unknown to Hellenes and it's hard to figure, really, why Merkel has made getting her Euros back her cause célèbre, given that her country prints the things. Germany needs Euros like China needs soot. I guess a debt's a debt.
Of course aside from cranking up the presses, the Greek government could do the other thing our government does when it needs more ducats than it can plausibly conjure; it could sell bonds. But finding prospective buyers is proving right near impossible since Moody's downgraded Greek issues last week to a CAA1 rating, a rating reserved for junk bonds. Right now, Enron is trading more briskly than the birthplace of Western Civilization. Worsening the whole mess is the fact that those affluent Greeks who have savings and other liquid assets are moving their wealth with all possible haste out of Greek banks into other European markets, thereby depleting the only significant internal money supply any nation's economy really has, bank deposits.
The bad news for Greeks goes on and on and begs questions about the sustainability of a European model that penalizes heavily unionized states, favors economic predation, blurs national dignity in a mélange of branded clichés and subsumes historical richness in the largess of right now. Still, what's bad news for Greeks might be good news for you, if you happen to be in the market for some large-scale overseas infrastructure. The Greek government has already indicated what it intends to auction off as well as its chosen auctioneers and, not surprisingly, they aren't Greeks. Here's a partial list of what's getting handled by whom:
- Greek State Gambling Monopoly; Deutsche Bank (Frankfurt)
- Greek State Lotteries; Credit Suisse (Zurich)
- Road Concessions; Rothschild and Barclays (London)
- Railways; PriceWaterhouse (London)
- Athens International Airport; BNP Paribas (Paris)
- Greek Trust and Loan Funds; Lazard (New York, London, Paris)
If none of those items sounds attractive, there are nine additional sell-off programs already established for the processing of Greek broadcasting, telecommunications, utilities, shipping and other industries that might pique your interest and whether you're a first-time carpetbagger or looking to trade up, Greece is a buyers' market. Prices may never be lower so you should act now and take advantage of attractive interest rates and seller incentives. You might also want to make sure you're free to travel later this month when the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce will host a conference at Claridge's in London to explain the details of the Privatize-a-thon.
Unfortunately, if you'd like to visit Greece in person to inspect your prospective acquisition right now might not be the best time, what with all the unrest in the streets, massive public demonstrations, forced closure of offices and institutions, partial industrial shutdowns and so on, all in reaction to what Keith Featherstone of the London School of Economics likens to "... [the] thought that foreigners have come to sell the family silver."
But worry not. Progress is an inexorable thing and it has a way of putting down pesky problems like nationalism, collective ownership and union influence over government fiscal policy. Greece was a world power back when Germans were painting their faces and eating their dead. Greece and its treasures will certainly remain safe and stable for centuries to come even if, in the near future, you'll need a hand stamp to re-enter the Acropolis Beer Garden. I know. It's sad. So here's Anthony Quinn.