Squawk Box To The Rescue

Maybe there’s a reason for the old investment cliche: “Sell in May and go away.” The financial news is grim. The Chinese market, more casino than capitalist tool, is down around 30 percent. Japan’s market is no picnic. The NYSE shuts down due to a computer glitch, and Greece is a defiant basket-case while its banker/enablers in the EU are demanding it do the impossible. And that doesn’t even touch Iran, ISIS and Russia.

Another venerable cliche is that the market climbs a wall of worry, but it looks like Sherpas may be required at this juncture. And markets also fall off the cliff. Oddly, the financial news windbags at CNBC seem unconcerned about China’s swoon, though it is one of our biggest customers, one of our biggest suppliers and among our biggest creditors. Instead, the Greek drama holds center stage.

Why? Because the network plays to its audience by espousing the philosophy that markets can do no wrong and government can do nothing right. Joe Kernen, bully boy anchor of the aptly named “Squawk Box” leans right, and ranting Tea Party poster boy Rick Santelli leans righter. So it’s no surprise that their line on Greece is worthy of a Dickens hard case like Scrooge or Gradgrind.

Greece lived beyond its means, refuses to reform and must repay what it borrowed . Why should hardworking Northern Europeans bail out lazy Southern Europeans? Send them all to the workhouse, the blacking factory or debtors’ prison.

But wait, the Northern Europeans let Spain and Portugal and Italy and Ireland and Greece into the Eurozone despite their less than robust economies. In part because they were seduced by their own dream of a borderless, single-currency, trading bloc, but also because they saw a tidy profit in selling their products to their poorer neighbors and loaning them the money to do so. Sounds like the housing bubble in this country.

At CNBC, which at times seems like a pure expression of the market’s id, the lender is always tight, the banker can’t be faulted for making crazy loans, but the bankrupt borrower deserves what he gets. Bailouts of banks are okay. Bailouts of lesser breeds are anathema.

So the TARP program and auto industry bailout and all the rest of the Obama administration scramble to keep the Great Recession from turning into something worse, are damned as liberal folly. And socialist, welfare state, income redistribution Europe had it coming. The people deserve to suffer, not the corporations.

CNBC economist Steven Liesman, as usual, has been a milder voice pitting reason and data against the faith-based beliefs of the laissez faire pit vipers around him. So he suggested that Greece cannot possibly repay its debts so forgiveness or restructuring are inevitable.

Furthermore, he notes that people are starving, have lost their pensions, can’t get their prescriptions filled and have no access to cash since the banks have been shut down by Greece’s moneylenders. The human suffering is intense no matter who is at fault. He allows as how this is a moral matter, not just a financial one.

Kernen shouts him down. Who cares about the human cost? The only moral issue is moral hazard if other deadbeats are emboldened to borrow unwisely. The Greeks made their bed and now must lie in it. The market, like father, always knows best. But Liesman’s point is not just humanitarian but practical, political, even geopolitical.

When people are backed into a corner and poked with sticks, like wild animals, they have a way of turning ugly. Russia would like nothing better than to see Greece exit the Eurozone along with other stressed country’s on its southern tier, even turn communist or ally themselves with Moscow rather than Brussels.

When a society is economically shattered, banks close, when hyperinflation threatens, people lose their job, their savings and their hope, the way is open to the rise of the demagogue. The Tea Party was born of the Great Recession. Huey Long and other left and right wing zealots rose during the Great Depression in America.

You’d think the German, of all people, might recall what happens when the screws are tightened intolerably on an economy, leading to widespread penury, unemployment and political fury. The punitive Treaty of Versailles and the agony it inflicted on the German people led directly to a defiant savior. We all remember how well that turned out. Or maybe the sages at CNBC see opportunity in chaos and misery. Short Greece, go long the arms merchants.

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