You can lead a horse to austerity, but you can’t make it drink.
Nobody should know this better than Greece, Europe, Puerto Rico and — who am I missing? I’ll get to that in a minute.
I don’t pretend to know all of the ins and outs of the self-inflicted or otherwise financial problems the Greeks face. I don’t know exactly how Puerto Rico — which aspires to be the 51st state — got its government $73 billion in the red and now wants Congress to issue them the get-out-of-debt-almost-free bankruptcy card.
But I do know the Greeks and the Puerto Ricans are getting a lot of unsolicited advice from the DRSR — that would be the Democratic Republic of the Self Righteous, who hail from everywhere.
Yes, the Greeks are a train wreck economy right now. Their fellow Europeans are trying to figure out whether it would be better or worse to let them walk away from the Euro world. If their big brother economies go for the full pound of flesh, they will have to endure the media coverage of the homeless, starving younger generation of Greeks who had nothing to do with the default and unsustainable economic fairy tales their parents bought into.
If the European Union bosses are too lenient or compassionate, who is to say other troubled European economies — Spain, Portugal and Italy come to mind — might follow Greece and ask for a similar arrangement?
To add to this, how crazy is it that Greek voters just got to decide about the terms they should face to pay off their debt? What countries can drift so far off course they find themselves whistling through the graveyard of their own demise?
How about us, the United States? Though we at least find a way to bail ourselves out of our messes and don’t look for neighboring countries for a solution, history teaches that it doesn't take us long to backslide. Who knows if our next upside-down episode will be a state instead of the cities of Detroit, Stockton, Calif., or Vallejo, Calif.?
I seem to recall my parents discussing the Great Depression and the grapes of wrath kind of fruit that this sorry, avoidable situation bore. I seem to recall a series of economic stalls, like the stock market struggling for a decade (1973 to 1983) to get back above 1,000. I seem to recall the dot-com deal that betrayed a lot of us when we put too much faith in people who put their faith in an Internet golden goose sans business plan. I seem to recall a nation that leveraged its future on home equity loans, bought boats and other toys, in an inflated housing market. I seem to recall a country where the lofty dream of home ownership was extended to everybody — even those who didn’t have jobs. I seem to recall a recent Great Recession where millions upon millions had to foreclose or take government-sponsored deals to keep from foreclosing.
I don’t know about you, but my family and ancestors have been where the Greeks and Puerto Ricans are now. A grandfather lost his feed store during the Great Depression. His grandson took a $100,000 haircut during the Great Recession in the wake of an ill-advised California home purchase in 2005.
But for the grace of quantitative easing (printing money), America, there go we. If we think the $18 trillion deficit we’ve accumulated is a righteous soapbox from which to wag our fingers in the direction of Greece and Puerto Rico, I’ve got some land in the Nevada desert I’d like to sell you.
The corrections for all troubled economies will come — even ours. Greece’s euro brethren may or may not end up coming to the rescue. The question we have to ask is: Who do we think is going to rescue us?