- By Bill Bonner
"It finished. Euro finished. Greece finished."
With this apocalyptic shorthand, our taxi driver described the situation in Athens.
The banks have been closed for two weeks. Greek citizens - but not tourists with foreign credit cards - have been restricted to 60 euros per day, the limit on what they could take out of an ATM. And when Friday came to a close, it looked like the end was at hand. Tsipiras was caving in to Europe's beer drinkers; he would accept their terms, said the papers.
Trouble was, his own countrymen had just voted to reject almost the same deal. Then, as the weekend progressed, the terms got worse. By this morning, word in the press is that he will have to surrender completely...or be forced out of the euro.
Like a storm chaser, we hopped on a plane to Athens to study the tornado moving through downtown Athens. It would be fun to see so many vanities and pretensions fly high, we thought. At the very least, it would be instructive, useful training for the storms coming elsewhere.
But nothing happened. No accident. No twister. No train wreck. No panic in the streets.
In fact, from our explorations in the Plaka area, we have found only tourists...and they seem to have no idea that there even is a financial crisis.
Last night, for example, we went over to the Syntagma Square to look for mayhem and chaos. All we found was a squad of police, dozing in an armored bus. ATMs were working; no lines in front of them. Restaurants were about half full.
Nor did we see signs of extravagant spending or reckless investment. This is a city about the size of Paris. But it has no Arc de Triomphe, no Eiffel Tour, no Louvre. No fancy apartments, no gleaming offices. At least, none that we saw.
Its main achievements were completed more than 2,000 years ago. And you wonder how these people did it. The Parthenon required huge investment and meticulous organization. It is breathtaking...a masterpiece. There is no sign of such capability here today. Instead, Athens is a washed-out, slightly trashy Mediterranean burg.
"Hey, can I help you?"
A seedy-looking man approached. We didn't know what he was offering, but we didn't want any.
We turned to walk in the other direction. He followed.
"Hey...what are you looking for...I can help you find it..."
"Well, I'm looking for signs of financial breakdown."
"Oh, I can help you find drugs...women...gambling... But I don't know anything about financial breakdowns."
We gave the man another 'thank you' and went off.
As you know, Greece is just another front in the Zombie War. The real issue here is the same as all the other fronts - how to keep the credit flowing.
Honest people make. Zombies take. They take what they can from earnings and savings, but it is not enough. It is credit that keeps them alive.
Zombie businesses borrow more and more to keep the lights on. They pay out big bonuses, and their stock goes up!
Cheap credit keeps the feds in business too. Practically every government in the world is operating in the red. Take away the red and zombie programs would have to be curtailed.
Cheap credit funds the layabouts, the chiselers, the lobbyists and lawyers, foolish wars and foolish investments, and all the many millions of people who live at the expense of others, many of them pretending to do useful work.
The test is simple in theory: if no one were forced to support them, would they still have the same income? If this answer is 'no,' they have been zombified.
But in practice, it can be hard to tell a zombie from an honest living, breathing, homo sapiens. Often they don't even know themselves. Some honest professions, for example, have been almost entirely zombified. So have entire countries. Greece, for example, has been able to live beyond its means - on credit provided by Northern Europeans. Many of its people - especially those who work for the government - have gotten used to earning more than they're worth.
There were very few zombies in the world of Pericles, Aristotle and Euclid. The economy could not support many parasites. Now, the world is full of them.
It was all quiet on the Greek front over the weekend. As of this morning, the can was still in the middle of the street - waiting either to be kicked further down the street...or to blow up. But it's been in the street for so long, both the locals and the tourists seem to have forgotten about it.
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.